Murray Goff celebrates 80 years of life
Goff, owner of Goff’s Department Store, said he
got into the menswear business when he realized he needed
a job that paid better than being in the U.S. Army Air
The year was 1953. Goff’s father, C.T. Goff, needed help running the store he purchased in 1915, which was formerly Fuller’s Dry Goods. Back then life was easier, Goff said. The store sold ladieswear, fabrics and one type of denim jeans; their groceries were delivered to the Goff family home by a grocery store owner named David; and Blaine had no freeway.
“When I moved up here from Bellingham at the time, we didn’t have a car,” he said. “We would phone the grocery store and David would deliver the groceries and we would go down once a month and we would pay him. There were three markets in town but they all delivered. It was an easier life.”
Goff had recently finished a two-year stint as an aerial photographer in the U.S. Army Air Force and a seven-year job as a tailor for a menswear store in Bellingham when his father asked him to return to Blaine and work with him.
Fresh out of high school in 1943, Goff enrolled at Western Washington University in an attempt to avoid being drafted. That same year, he met his wife Kathryn while working at a bathhouse in Birch Bay. They married in Bellingham two years later.
Goff said he had been previously thinking – as many young men did then – about applying for work at the Standard Oil refinery near Bellingham. He worked there for two and a half months until a tragic accident that killed his high school friend and made him change his mind.
So in 1944, Goff enlisted in what was then known as the Army Air Force.
“I went to college long enough to get an A in photography,” he said. “But it probably saved my life because I ended up as an aerial photographer in the Air Force. We were scheduled to take pictures of what was going to be bombed but I never did go overseas, I just flew over the United States in a B-29. We had three cameras – one big one on the front and then two that shot off to the sides, which we would use to make maps. It was great fun.”
When he returned from the military, he used his G.I. bill to get employment at Bochnak’s, a menswear store on the corner of Cornwall and Holly streets in Bellingham where he trained under a Jewish tailor named Abraham Cohen.
“The one thing I learned that probably saved my career was tailoring,” he said. “The old Russian Jewish fellow Abraham Cohen who was the tailor at the department store had lost his son and I think his son was about my age. He just treated me great. He sat on the table and did almost all his work by hand, but he also showed me how to use the sewing machine.”
Goff said he worked with Cohen for about six years before he decided to strike out on his own, becoming a manager for the Willis and Dickerson shoe store in Bellingham. In 1953, C.T. asked his son to help run his store, so Goff took a $5,000 loan and went to work for his father, adding a menswear section to the store.
Back then, Goff’s only had a fraction of the inventory they have now – ladieswear, corduroy, very few sport shirts, flannel shirts, some t-shirts, and Lee Jeans for men, which Goff ordered long so he could shorten them to suit.
“I could do that and I didn’t have to have a big inventory,” he said. “Back then, you didn’t have the selection because you didn’t need it. Now you need 40 kinds of jeans to sell one pair.”
Business, however, was thriving. Malls wouldn’t become a reality for another 20 years and residents didn’t travel much before the freeway was built in 1964. Most of the store’s customers were men stationed at the U.S. Air Force base in Birch Bay who bought work uniforms and dress clothes. Goff gave them credit and cashed their checks in good will.
“I would cash their checks for them, and if they didn’t pay their bills, I would call up their commander and guess what, they paid them,” he said.
In 1963, his father, C.T. Goff died and his mother, Margaret Goff, took over the management of the women’s section of the store until 1967, when Goff bought the entire store.
In 1972, he hired his son Greg and his wife Jo to run the store’s day-to-day operations. Greg had been working construction in Ferndale and had injured himself when a barrel rolled over him. Goff said he was first worried when Greg announced he would expand the business to include dry cleaning and shoe sales.
“I thought he was crazy when he got into the dry cleaning and the shoe business,” he said. “But it pretty much saved our business. Not that it doesn’t take much for us to do okay, knock on wood. Nowadays, you have a hard time finding wood, but I got some right here.”
Today, Goff’s store sells six styles of Lee boot cut jeans in addition to a variety of men and women’s clothing, sewing supplies and shoes. But Goff and his son Greg, who manages the store, still issue credit and personalized attention – often greeting their customers by their first names.
“Yes, we do credit,” he said. “People are often surprised that we do alterations or even talk to you or know what’s in the store. The couple I was just waiting on from Ferndale couldn’t get over the fact that I waited on them.”
At that moment, a tall man wearing a fleece jacket and corduroy pants walked in carrying a duffle bag full of shirts for his son and himself.
“You got a monthly bill on that for me?” he said.
When Goff handed him the bill, the man said there must be a mistake.
“I’m sorry we didn’t charge you more,” Goff said. “You can always pay more, if you like.”