Murray Goff: 50 years in business

Published on Thu, Feb 27, 2003 by Meg Olson

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Murray Goff: 50 years in business

By Meg Olson

There is a historic marker on the outside of Goff�s Department Store on Peace Portal Drive, which states the building was built in 1899. While it may not look that historic from the outside, inside there is an assortment of pieces of history � from the cash register to the man behind the counter.

This month Murray Goff is marking his fiftieth year sewing cuffs and selling slacks in Blaine. �It keeps me out of my wife�s hair,� Goff laughed. �I think it�s fun, the visiting we do. Our customers are nice. I can�t remember when we had one that wasn�t.� He and son Greg, with weekend help from his wife Katheryn and Greg�s wife Jo, run the business with personal attention and warmth that is a thing of the past in today�s malls and superstores. �One of the things I�ve noticed over the past few years is people who aren�t from around here can�t believe we laugh and talk with people who come in,� he said. �What a crime.�

Goff�s father C.T. Goff came to Blaine in 1913 and bought Fuller�s Dry Goods store two years later. Since then the Goffs have expanded the store and remodeled, but they�re still in the same place and still using the same 1909 National cash register that came with the store.

During World War I, C.T. Goff grew the business as a ladieswear store and in 1927 bought the adjacent drug store and expanded his retail space to its current size.

Born in 1926, Murray Goff remembers coming in to clean the store�s wooden floors in the evening, but it wasn�t until after he came back after the second World War that he joined the business. Using his G.I bill funding, he apprenticed at Bochnak�s menswear store in Bellingham. �I took some tailoring, some window dressing,� Goff said. �We had an old Jewish tailor there and what I learned about sewing I learned from him. In 1953 he borrowed $5,000 and joined his father in business, putting in a menswear section in one side of the store.�

�It was a different era when my dad was here,� Goff said, attired in jeans and a plaid shirt. �You wore a suit and a tie.� Some of Goff�s best customers in those days came from the air force station in Birch Bay. �I�d cash checks for them, give them credit,� he said. �I had been in the army air corps so we got along pretty well.� The business also got a boost when Goff started providing all local customs and immigration inspectors with their uniforms, which continued until the Reagan administration centralized purchasing for federal agencies.

They remodeled the store in 1963. �We fell through the floor, literally,� Goff said. They tore out the old wooden floor, plaster and lathe walls and skylights in the ceiling, replacing them with a concrete floor, drywall and a drop ceiling. They also modernized the store�s fa�ade, which Goff now regrets. �We shouldn�t have,� he said.

His father died in 1963 and Goff bought the other half of the business from his mother in 1968. The business grew to include everything from the dry goods and sewing supplies it originally sold to ready-to-wear clothing for men, women and children, tailoring and cleaning services. The store is also the local headquarters for Borderite wear, from letter jackets to duffel bags.

�Things started going down instead of up in the 1980s,� Goff said. �The malls have changed things as much as anything. People have changed. They think nothing of driving a distance.� The business has gone from having four full-time and half a dozen part-time employees to being run by family members only, but Goff said business is now steady. �Young people don�t want to be waited on but some of our older customers still want service.�

Today Goffs is also a bit of the town museum. Murray and Greg Goff still ring up sales on the National cash register, which, top of the line for its day, has separate cash drawers for each salesman. �It�s only problem is inflation,� Goff said. �It only goes to $89.99.� In the cash register�s lower cupboard they have glove stretchers and clips dating from a time when customers would ask for them. They tell time by reading the clock from the old train depot, which now hangs on the store�s wall, along with a calendar from 1954. The Goffs also have several decades� worth of the old Blaine Journal newspaper, one announcing the birth of Murray Goff in 1926, at eight and a half pounds. �How many people can find their own birth announcement?� he asked. They welcome anyone interested in Blaine history to come in for a visit.

While Goff would like to see more business return to Blaine�s downtown, he said he has every intention of serving his customers until he can�t anymore. �I�d like to see more people around, but I can�t remember when I didn�t. I guess you always want more,� he said.

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