Seven decades have passed since the Browne family opened the doors to Browne Home Center on San Juan Island in Washington State.
From its first day in business to its 25,000th and counting, the same customer service principles apply: Always remain ready to help, always take the time to listen, and always find a solution – no matter what it takes.
The Browne family enterprise took shape in 1947, when Jim and Inez Browne moved to the island and purchased the business with a fortuitous name: Brown Lumber. But what started as a meant-to-be-proposition actually had roots dating back to the early 20th century.
In 1920, Captain Herbert H. Davis of Lopez Island, who married Mary Crook of English Camp in 1897, opened HH Davis Lumber in Friday Harbor after retiring from running ships for Roche Harbor Lime Company. The store was located just north of where Downriggers restaurant resides today. While overseeing the business, he was active in the community and served as Friday Harbor’s mayor.
The business changed hands several times after Davis died in 1929. Both VW Talbott and Frank Mullis owned it in the 20s and 40s, each retaining the name Davis Lumber. In 1945, brothers Bob and Joe Brown bought the business. Though they owned it for only a year, they made one important alteration: the name was changed to Brown Lumber.
In January of 1947, a newly married young couple from Seattle, Jim and Inez Browne, purchased the business and changed the name to Browne’s Building Supply. The two led the business side by side, with Jim driving a truck to the mainland, Inez running the store and managing the books. They started a family and continued to work relentlessly. Their business thrived.
The Browne sons, Rob and Terry, had been fixtures in the lumberyard their whole lives. When Rob broke his leg in his early 20s and ended up stuck in the office, he ending up learning the business, too. With Terry taking on outside duties, the two made a tireless team.
Together, within a few years of the company’s move up Spring Street into the old Dairymen’s Association building, the brothers were overseeing the entire operation. Always keeping pace with the growing lumber industry, in 1984 they undertook a major store remodel, and in 2000, purchased property from Friday Harbor Building Supply and built a new 16,000-square-foot space on Mullis Street. It was then the business was renamed Browne’s Home Center.
Jim served as mayor of Friday Harbor for three terms and kept a hand in the business after retiring in the 1990s. Jim preferred tending to the details while Inez offered up the enthusiasm. They were a loving, perfectly matched pair.
Inez was a pioneering career woman – the only female entrepreneur in the area at the time. She was involved in the community and worked every day until the age of 85, attributing her long and healthy life to her career. She passed away in 1998 at the age of 86. Rob’s wife, Claudia, picked up the reins and became an integral part of the business, as her role model Claudia has before her.
In 2016, the Browne’s family suffered an enormous loss: Rob Browne passed away after a long battle with cancer. Rob was the heart of the business – and to many – the heart of Friday Harbor. It was Rob who friends and family came to for help, for he was always calm, happy, and even tempered in every situation. Under his poised exterior, though, was a true prankster, making him a well-loved employer and friend.
In 2017, Claudia, alongside brother-in-law Terry and sister-in-law Jan Howard, took over management of the company, following in the footsteps of a long line of incredibly giving, community-focused family members who grounded and grew the business.
After 70 years, numerous locations, and continual change, Browne’s Home Center is honored to employ 50 outstanding team members and a dedicated community who proudly call BHC their family.
In 2017, to ensure the Browne’s legacy would persist, BHC became a division of TAL Holdings, LLC, joining with the Tum-A-Lum Hardware stores in Hood River, The Dalles and Pendleton, and the Browne’s Home Center stores in Chelan, Wenatchee, Cle Elum and Leavenworth.
Today, the organizations share the values upon each was built: loyalty, hard work, perseverance, and (perhaps most importantly) respect for relationships, including those with family, employees, customers, and communities.
Chris Heal, formerly of Marson and Marson Lumber's Chelan location, serves as general manager with input for Claudia Browne. Terry and Jan are enjoying retirement.