By Jim Carney
Beacon Journal staff writer
MEDINA: For as long as Jim Thwaite can remember, he has spent nearly all his time, six days a week, at the family’s Whitey’s Army-Navy stores.
Even at the age of 7, Thwaite worked in the family store in Berea.
Now 65, Thwaite believes the time has come to move on.
“I think it is time to retire,” he said in a recent interview.
A year ago, Thwaite listed the two businesses — in Medina and Berea — through David Castlegrant and Associates for $575,000. A few weeks ago, he placed a For Sale sign up in the front of his Medina store.
“I don’t want to be carried out of here feet first,” Thwaite said. “I want to walk out.”
With three adult daughters who are not interested in taking over the stores, Thwaite said he started thinking about selling the business a few years ago.
The business is in his family’s blood and history.
His father, Harold “Whitey” Thwaite, a Navy pilot during World War II in the Pacific, borrowed $1,000 from his in-laws to start the first store in Berea in 1948.
A year later, he opened a store in Medina, a few doors down from where the store has been located since the late 1950s at 2 Public Square.
Later, stores were opened in Wooster and Elyria but both have long been closed.
Jim Thwaite, a Muskingum College graduate and Marine Reserve veteran, began running the business after his father died of a heart attack while boating in Florida in 1973.
Thwaite’s father hardly spoke of his war experiences with him, but he has found that customers who come in to look and buy military surplus materials often out of the blue start talking openly about their ordeals during wartime.
“An 80- or 90-year-old will walk in my door and talk for an hour, but he won’t talk to his kids or grandkids,” Thwaite said. “He will talk to a stranger.”
Thwaite said the business is thriving, not distressed, and he is selling only because he feels it is time to stop working.
“I’ve never gone backward,” he said.
Simply put, he said, “I am done.”
His hope is to sell both stores together and to someone who will continue with the Whitey’s name. Thwaite does not own the building where the Medina store is headquartered but does own the building at 56 Front St. in Berea, which includes other retail space and is for sale as well for $425,000.
Brunswick resident Debbie Wentz, the longtime manager of the Medina store, said that since the sign went up in the front window in Medina, people regularly walk in and say: “Oh, no, it’s not true,” or, “You aren’t going away?”
Wentz said the hope is that the store will not go away but that someone new will buy the business.
“Business is wonderful,” said Wentz, who is on the board of directors of the Main Street Medina program.
Thwaite said he and his wife, Joan, have property in Colorado, where they would like to move, when the stores are sold.
He has even scouted out an Army-Navy store in Fort Collins, Colo., where he thinks he would love to work a few days a week after he and his wife move.
If the stores do not sell, he said, he will have a liquidation sale and just close down.
Still, after working since he was 7, and even taking a Greyhound bus from Strongsville to Medina at the age of 13 on Saturdays to open the store, the prospect of not being at the store on the square in Medina “scares the hell out of me.”
“Do the math,” Thwaite said. “I’ve been working since I was 7 or 8 years old!”
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.