American Dream Achieved
IBA, as an approximately fifty-year old business brokerage firm serving the entrepreneurial community of the Pacific Northwest, has been uniquely positioned since before the American Bicentennial celebration of 1976 to witness and hear the stories of thousands of people who have lived the American dream through entrepreneurship creating beloved businesses by employees, customers, and communities while finding personal fulfillment and financial prosperity through execution of their ideas, hard work, perseverance, and ability. In an effort to share these stories heard throughout the years by our team of business brokers, who are commonly regarded as the “best listeners” in the M&A industry, IBA has retained highly regarded freelance writer, David Garfield, to tell their stories. It is our goal to share one story a month. It is our hope that you will find the stories as inspirational and motivational as they are to us and the buyers who bought the businesses in IBA facilitated transactions in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.
The Story of Joanne & Corbet Richter (Alpine Blossom Gift Shoppe)
By David Garfield
It is a December late-morning day and Joanne Richter answers the phone from her home in Quincy, Washington. She and her husband, Corbet, are busy with the hustle and bustle preparing for the holidays and excited about their card party with friends this evening, when Joanne’s memory flashes back to the magical time of yesteryear as the couple owned the Alpine Blossom and Gift Shoppe in North Bend, Washington, from 1979 to 1998.
Christmas was always the most popular and favorite time of year for the customers, full of festivity, joy and peace.
“In November, we always had a big Christmas open house every year,” Joanne said. “We would decorate the shop. Normally, we had at least 10 Christmas trees that were theme decorated. One would be a lodge theme, another would be a Santa Claus theme, and another one would be a red, white and blue Americana theme. We would pick different themes every year. We had lots of wreaths to sell, poinsettias, centerpieces for parties. We had candles, gift items. We had windows all the way across the 6,500 square feet store, two ends of the building we had to decorate.”
Joanne admits it “was just really hard work for us. I used to say we decorated everybody else’s homes. At the last minute, I would just shove one of the trees into the back of our van and take it home. We had nice holidays for 20 years, but they were very hectic and we worked really hard and long hours. We worked seven days a week and at least 10 hours a day.”
But Joanne loved the Christmas spirit.
“We played Christmas music,” Joanne said. “We had a quartet one year. I played the viola. Another year, my friend played the piano and I played the viola. Another year, a different friend of mine played the violin and I played the viola. We had cookies and everybody in town came in. Looking back on it, we were awfully tired, but it was good.”
The Christmas festivities were just one way the Richters bonded with their loyal customers across generations in this beloved store in a small logging, rural community (North Bend’s population was just 2,578 in 1990). Their customers constantly thanked the Richters for providing them with great service, flowers and gifts.
“That’s what we always heard, if you want to buy a gift item,” Joanne said, “that was the place to go to buy it.”
The store sold gifts, Hallmark cards, silk arrangements, Beanie Babies, plants and “mostly just flower arrangements for special occasions. We did all the flowers for weddings,” Joanne said. The couples would even invite the Richters “all the time” to their weddings.
“It’s really special to be able to be a part of somebody’s wedding,” Joanne said. “That’s the biggest day of their life. And to be able to be a part of that is a real gift. People still email me and say we remember you did our wedding. … We did a lot of weddings so that really made us a part of their lives.”
Joanne and Corbet viewed each customer as family and made close personal connections as the community florist who helped when babies were born, proms, homecomings, Mother’s Day, birthdays, weddings, and even funerals.
“We enjoyed it,” Joanne said. “We knew people by name. It was a small town so everybody who came through the front door, we knew who they were and we called them by their name. I think the town loved coming in there. My husband was born and raised in the Snoqualmie Valley (three miles from North Bend) and I lived there for 40 years. We feel like we knew just about everybody in the community and cared a lot about our customers. We would bend over backward for our customers.
“It was just a wonderful place to be and a wonderful time to be there,” she added. “It was so rewarding. It was sometimes sad. I know I cried many days when people would order flowers for loved ones (for funerals). Then there was the happy side of it, the weddings and the births and the parties. It’s really a great business to be in, especially if you like people. I like people. It felt like we were an integral part of the community and part of the families in the community.”
Corbet also felt special being part of everybody’s life.
“It was very nice,” he said. “We got to be really well known. We had 2,200 accounts. Everybody paid their bill. It was just great. Wherever you go to the store in those days, you know everybody. But not now, it’s all changed.”
Joanne, 76, and Corbet, 80, had their specific duties. She operated the store, hired the employees, ordered all gift items and flowers, and “kept everything running on the front counter,” while also doing advertising.
Corbet was an equal partner to his wife in the store.
“He was very instrumental in the success of the flower shop,” Joanne gushed.
A great handyman, Corbet was responsible for remodeling, making a huge cooler for the flowers, keeping all the vehicles running, overall maintenance, bookwork and paying the employees.
He received all his mechanical skills from his dad, who was a blacksmith.
“He knew all the tricks of the trade for carpentry and blacksmith,” Corbet said. “He was just a really good mechanic. He knew how to do everything. He had an eighth-grade education, but he was the smartest guy I ever knew.”
The couple greatly complemented each other.
“Most of the time, we got along good at the flower shop,” Corbet said. “She had her area and I had mine. All the things we did together, for me, is really fulfilling. All in all, we saw eye-to-eye.”
Corbet and Joanne never really had a break from work. They were constantly on duty.
“People called us at home at night,” Corbet said. “So and so died and they wanted some flowers delivered. We’d always do it. People really appreciated (that).”
Corbet delivered over 22 thousand flower arrangements in 20 years and sometimes drove 300 miles per day and “wore out four vans.”
“He would go quite a ways,” Joanne said. “He was on the road most of the day. When he wasn’t on the road, he was either remodeling something or making out paychecks or doing bookwork. … He knew where everybody in the all of Snoqualmie Valley lived.”
Corbet said “everybody was always pleasant. I never had a customer ever get mad or anything. I enjoyed delivering flowers.”
“… It was a good place to work. We were making money,” he added. “We had some good employees. Some of them stayed with us for 15 years. One of them called us the other day. We were going to get together with him. I had a good time with the employees. They were all good.”
The couple worked extremely hard to grow the business.
“We went out and solicited,” Joanne said. “We had the contract for all flowers for a (country club) where Bill Gates is a member. We went and got the contract for (another country club). We had the Snoqualmie Falls restaurant contract for flowers. We did all their weddings and special parties. We really went for it. We had to; we had to pay back our second mortgage.”
The Richters made it so big that IBA CEO and president Gregory Kovsky said that “we were the largest grossing flower shop on the east side of Lake Washington.”
Corbet said his greatest gratification and joy in owning the store was “making it go. We started out in ’79 where the interest rates were like 12, 13 percent. We just did a lot of work. We did so many things there. We had a Hallmark card shop and then we got into the Beanie Baby business. We sold thousands of them. But I think the best one was the Twin Peaks (merchandise).”
Before all this success, the Richters had talked about entering business together. Joanne was working as a bank teller across the street from a small flower shop when the owner, Bob, who always came by her window, said one day after making a deposit: “I’m going to sell the flower shop and go into the ministry.”
“The flower shop had only been there a couple of years,” Joanne said. “I don’t know what made me say this, but I said, ‘Is it OK if Corbet and I come over and talked to you about that?’ That night we came over to talk to him. We ended up putting a second mortgage on our house and buying (the flower shop).”
Corbet and Joanne changed the name of Bob’s Flower Shop to the Alpine Blossom and Gift Shoppe in 1979.
“Corbet and I had been talking about doing some kind of business,” Joanne said. “He worked at Darigold (making ice cream, yogurt and other items) in Issaquah and he wasn’t very happy there. He wanted to get out of there and do something on his own, so when this opportunity came up, we really jumped on it and so happy we did.”
Corbet always had an entrepreneurial spirit.
“Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to do it on my own,” he said. “My mom and dad were Democrats and I was a Republican. In those days, they got a lot of government assistance on the farm. I could never understand why all this free money. People are supposed to work for their living, not get it free.”
The Richters faced many hardships and obstacles in the beginning of their entrepreneurship.
“It was a very poor time for us to go into business,” Joanne said. “The economy was so bad with high inflation, high prices and gas shortages and everything else. But we just felt we needed to do something different. Corbet kept his job at Darigold for nine years (to help with finances) and I ran the flower shop. When he got off work at Darigold, he’d come work at the flower shop.”
Corbet awoke each morning at 2:30 A.M. and arrived at Darigold at 4 A.M. He got off work at noon and then helped Joanne with the shop until sometimes 8 P.M.
“It was dedication,” Corbet said. “Things needed to be done to make it go the next day.”
In about 1985, the Richters expanded and put in a Hallmark card shop in the other part of the building Then, a few years later, Joanne said “we bought the building” and expanded into the vacant Sears store. “Now, we had 6,500 square feet, a big flower shop, a gift shop and a Hallmark card shop.”
Business soon boomed, and got much bigger when Twin Peaks aired on TV in 1990 and ‘91, and also had a feature film in ‘92 called “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.” Part of the acclaimed show was filmed in North Bend and other parts in the Snoqualmie Valley. According to discovernorthbend.org, “North Bend landed on the map in 1990 when Mark Frost and David Lynch turned the town into Twin Peaks for the popular TV series that later gained a devoted, worldwide fan following. According to Wikipedia, Twin Peaks is often listed among the greatest television shows of all time, and considered a landmark turning point in TV drama” that gained cult-like watchers.
The Alpine Blossom and Gift Shoppe was the “Original Twin Peaks Store,” the first shop in the country to sell Twin Peaks merchandise. The Richters sold everything from T-shirts, coffee mugs, bumper stickers, CD’s, tapes, and even logs (in name of the Log Lady character on the show who always carried a small log in her arm, which she believed shared a psychic connection).
“It was a big deal,” said Joanne, whose banking background truly helped her as a business owner. “You name it, we had it for Twin Peaks. We had at least 20 different T-shirt designs that we came up with.”
“We sold as many as 50,000 T-shirts in one week,” Corbet added.
None of the merchandise was licensed.
(Producer) Lynch came into the store, along with the show’s stars. Joanne said Lynch didn’t have any problems with the items not being licensed and “never charged us any royalties or anything, so we were lucky.”
The store attracted thousands of tourists yearly and a Twin Peaks festival was held each summer.
“People came from all over the country, and through the year, we got lots of requests to mail shirts,” Joanne said. “That was really before the Internet was so big.”
A visual soundtrack that showed the store was even made in the early 1990s for the Japanese market. Joanne said once a Japanese bus pulled in front of the store, and people came out and bought $9 thousand dollars in just 45 minutes.
“That’s how it was,” Joanne said.
Corbet also cut up about 1,000 logs in the Richters’ yard before the couple contracted someone to do the job. Joanne tagged each of them: “The Log From The Real Twin Peaks.”
“They were a real big hit,”Joanne said.
The store developed into iconic status.
“It was a lot of fun,” Joanne said. “We were on TV quite a bit. I was interviewed by Bill O’Reilly on Inside Edition. We were interviewed by lots of Japanese television companies. Fuji interviewed us. We were in the paper a lot. We had a really good time and our employees really had a good time, too.”
Joanne will never forget when Frank Silva, who played the evil spirit Killer BOB on Twin Peaks, came into the store.
”It was a thrill to meet him,” she said. “Our customers just went wild when he came in and the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson), too. They just loved her. She came in one day and took about three dozen Log Lady T-shirts. I’m sure she was giving them away as gifts.
“…We were already doing very, very well before Twin Peaks came along,” Joanne said, “but it definitely put us over the edge. That’s for sure.”
Long before Joanne and Corbet gained national fame as entrepreneurs, they both came from extremely humble beginnings. Joanne grew up on Seattle’s west side and then north Seattle in a “little town called Edmonds,” where she graduated from high school. Her “only aspiration” growing up in the 1950s was to “get married and have children. That’s the way it was at that time in history. But I was smart and did well in school.”
Her father had Parkinson’s Disease and died when Joanne was just age 16.
“We were really poor so there was no talk about going to college,” Joanne said.
Corbet, meanwhile, was born and raised on his parents’ dairy farm in Snoqualmie Valley.
“I can remember the dairy farm by the time I was 4 years old,” Corbet said. “We had about 350 cows that we had to milk twice a day. My first job on the farm was when I was 6 to feed cows. I had a whole bunch of cows to feed. I did that seven days a week.”
At age 12, he was driving a tractor “all over the field.” Then, in 1957, his uncle got injured working on the farm and Corbet had to drop out of his junior year of high school and help his dad milk all the cows.
A year later at 18 years old, Corbet left the farm and worked in the logging industry for one year before working for Darigold for 28 years.
Working on the dairy farm instilled Corbet with a tremendous work ethic.
“We had to work,” he said. “We never had a weekend off. The only time we got off was Christmas Day and Sunday afternoon. We had it tough on the farm. Being flooded out there three or four times a year. It taught me how to work (and) responsibility. My dad would just tell us one time what we better do and we better do it right. We didn’t have time to mess around.”
Corbet’s childhood dream was to work in agriculture.
“I loved the logging industry the best,” he said. “My brother was killed in the woods. My uncle was hurt bad in the woods. (But) it’s a wonderful life in the woods.”
Like Joanne, Corbet was very poor growing up.
“We didn’t have any money,” he said. “If we wanted money, my mom said, ’You’re going to have to pick blackberries and sell them for 15 cents a pound to buy school clothes.’”
He and Joanne met in May 1973 at a dance and immediately fell in love and were married three months later. They were both divorced and Joanne had three little girls and Corbet had three little boys.
“We just clicked and decided to get married with our six children,” Joanne said.
She added that her first impression of Corbet was ”that I felt like I had known him for a long time.”
On their first date, Corbet took Joanne to meet his mom, sister, aunt, and a couple of cousins. “We just made the rounds,” Joanne said. “I thought this guy is really nice and I think I like him. It turned out that I was right. He is a fantastic guy. We’ve been married for 49 years.”
Corbet also recalls first meeting Joanne extremely fondly.
“I thought, ‘Boy, she sure is pretty.’ I just went over to ask her to dance and three months later we got married. It was love. I said, ‘Let’s just not mess around. Let’s get married and get going.”
It’s been a truly blissful, loving and magical marriage for nearly half a century. The couple decided to sell the Alpine Blossom and Gift Shoppe when they became too overwhelmed, tired, and busy with their duties.
“After one Mother’s Day, it was so busy,” Joanne recalled. “We had Mother’s Day and prom on the same day. We actually slept on the floor in the flower shop with the sleeping bag … so we could get all the work done that we had to do. We slept for about three hours and got up and went to work again. When that holiday season was over, I said to Corbet, ‘Do you want to do this anymore?’ He said, ‘No,” and I said, ‘Neither do I.’
Joanne saw an article about Kovsky in a floral magazine and called him for help in selling the flower and gift shop. The Richters immediately felt a deep and special connection to Kovsky.
“He was very young,” Joanne said. “Actually, he hadn’t been doing it for very long, but he seemed to know so much about the value of a flower shop, which is probably totally different from another business. He knew all about the percentages. He knew a lot. I could tell he was a very smart person. We just instantly liked Gregory a lot. He’s very easy to talk to. He’s just a good person.
“We’ve known him ever since. We’ve kept in contact with him. He’s come to visit us. We keep up on what the family is doing. We know that Alexander (Kovsky and his wife, Janette’s son) is going to college right now (at the University of Miami), and we watch Alexander’s blogs on the Internet. We just love that family. We really do. He’s become a part of our family and we’ve become a part of his family. It’s just hard to find people like him that you stay in contact like we have.”
Kovsky also has great admiration and love for the Richters, and enjoys how much his wife and him enjoy spending time with them throughout the years.
“(They are) wonderful people,” Kovsky said. “They have become good friends of Janette and mine.”
The Richters have reveled in their lives since selling the store when Corbet was age 55 and Joanne was 52. They bought three condos in Hawaii and rented them out for 30 years before recently selling them in an effort to downsize. In 2005, they moved from the rainy and crowded Snoqualmie Valley to sunny eastern Washington in Quincy. They bought a house in the middle of farm country and started their orchard business, where they have a farm that grows 80 acres of honey crisp apples and another farm with 40 acres of corn.
They will sell part of their farm by the end of the year and the other farm in a few years. The Richters also keep busy in retirement with their six kids and whopping 14 grandchildren and 15 great grandkids.
“We couldn’t be happier over here,” Joanne said. “We’re just as happy as we can be. I think overall we really did all right with ourselves,” Joanne added in reflecting about she and Corbet’s life. “We didn’t have any profession. We didn’t go to college. We didn’t have much to start with. We think we did a pretty good job. We’re happy with most of the things we’ve accomplished.”
Corbet also feels extremely fulfilled with his life from growing up on a dairy farm to making it big with the Alpine Blossom and Gift Shoppe, and now enjoying the orchid business and retirement.
“I just hope other people can have that experience,” he said. “But it takes a lot of hard work. If you’re going to do something, you got to do it. You can’t hold off and do it later, you got to do it right away. That’s the way I’ve always been. I make decisions fast. I’m happy with my life the way it’s went.”
The couple is currently excited to have a festive Christmas with their family and share their love. Aside from family, the Richters’ greatest joy in life was owning the flower and Hallmark card and gift shop and making a profound difference in people’s lives.
From growing up poor to becoming successful entrepreneurs and having an iconic store, Corbet and Joanne Richter definitely lived the American dream.
“I think that’s what I’m proud of,” Joanne said. “We did it. We started with nothing, a second mortgage on our house. We have succeeded far more than we ever expected to. We’re able to have a really nice retirement. We’ve traveled all over the world. We couldn’t have done that if we just worked from 9 to 5 for somebody else.”
David Garfield is an international award-winning freelance writer based in Lawrence, Kansas. He’s been writing professionally since 1995 and has written over 20 magazine cover stories. A 1988 University of Kansas honors graduate, David has written on a variety of subjects during his long and successful career, including covering athletics at the University of Kansas, the Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Chiefs with a special emphasis on telling stories about the people behind achievement, including Hall of Famers George Brett, Roy Williams, Larry Brown, All-Star Johnny Damon, and rising NBA star Devonte’ Graham. He’s also written profiles on about 200 volunteers who played significant roles in their community. One of David’s most inspirational stories was about a Kansas native who traveled to Israel, where he donated a kidney to a 10-year-old boy and was hailed as a “hero.” David, who specializes in writing human interest profiles, has written stories from the heart on cancer survivors, recovering alcoholics and former homeless people, to successful businessmen/women, doctors, dentists, and idealist college students who wanted to change the world. He’s been published in USA Today, KANSAS! Magazine, Anchorage Daily News, Lawrence Journal-World, Lawrence Magazine, KU Today & Tomorrow, Kansas City Jewish Chronicle and Jayhawk Insider. He’s extremely excited to join the IBA family and write human interest stories on entrepreneurs who have achieved the American dream. Mr. Garfield also writes a blog about KU basketball: https://davidgarfieldshoopheaven.blogspot.com/.