July 23, 2016

Mostly sunny

Whitey’s goes up for sale after 65 years in the family

Owner Jim Thwaite, 65, said it’s time to retire, but he wants to make sure Whitey’s Army-Navy stays open. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY DAN POMPILI)

After 65 years serving the Medina and Berea communities, the Thwaite family is looking to hand over the keys to Whitey’s Army-Navy stores to a new owner.

Jim Thwaite, who turned 65 in July, said it’s time to spend more time, say, fishing.

“I don’t know about fishing, but more time doing something else, that’s for sure,” Thwaite said.

Whitey’s was opened in 1948 by Jim’s father, Harold “Whitey” Thwaite, who got his nickname for his very blond hair.

Jim Thwaite, owner of Whitey’s Army-Navy, said 58 years at the local business is long enough for him, but he wants to keep the doors open for his customers and employees. He’s hoping to sell the business to a local buyer. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY DAN POMPILI)

Harold Thwaite was a Navy pilot during World War II in the Pacific Theater.

After the war, he flew freight planes and gave flying lessons. But it was the vast availability of military surplus gear that gave him the perfect model for a family business, and he began it with $1,000 he borrowed from his wife’s parents.

“Government-issue stuff was relatively inexpensive and very high quality, so it was a good bargain to the public,” Jim Thwaite said.

The first store opened on First Avenue in Berea and later moved to its location at 56 Broad St. The Medina location at 2 Public Square opened in 1949. The business moved to its corner spot in the early 1960s in the same building.

Jim Thwaite, a Strongsville resident, has been working in the family business since he was 7. When Harold died in 1973 at the age of 53, the business went into trust and Jim continued working until buying the business in the mid-1980s.

Jim Thwaite served in the U.S. Marines Reserve from 1970-76. He married his wife, Joan, in 1981 and they had three daughters.

Joan raised the girls until they were off to college and then joined Jim in running Whitey’s.

The Thwaites said their desire is to keep the stores open, just under different ownership and management.

“It’s been good to my family all these years and I’ve got to believe it would be good for somebody else,” Jim Thwaite said.

But the couple made it clear they’re selling because they want to, not because they have to.

“Other Army-Navy stores have come and gone, but we’re still here,” Jim Thwaite said.

Thwaite said the business primarily was based on government-surplus goods in the early days, anywhere from 85 percent to 90 percent of the inventory, supplemented with some hardware items. Those materials began to run out around the mid-1950s and the inventory gradually converted to 85 percent to 90 percent commercially made goods, including work clothes and camping gear.

“It’s been a good business and it’s still a good business,” Joan Thwaite said. “It’s getting better, in fact. Sales are increasing.”

Jim Thwaite said his other consideration is those who work for him.

Deb Wentz and Jim Peterman both have been with Whitey’s for more than 27 years, Wentz manages the Medina store and Peterman helps the Thwaites manage the Berea location.

Peterman, of Fairview Park, said he hopes to stay on under new ownership.

“I’d have to see what they offer; but if I left here, I’d miss the people,” he said.

“He’s a great boss and a great friend. He’s too easy to work for,” Wentz said of Jim Thwaite. “He’s got good business ethics and he’s trained me well.”

Wentz, a Brunswick resident, said she hopes to stay on and wants to see the business remain open for the community.

“We’re unique. You don’t see Army-Navy stores everywhere with our vast array of merchandise and our personal service,” she said.

The sale is being handled by David Castlegrant and Associates of Brighton, Mich.

The store officially has been up for sale since January 2012, but Jim Thwaite didn’t put a sign in the windows of his stores until July.

Thwaite said he’s asking $575,000 for the business, which includes both stores. The price does not include the actual real estate. The Medina store is owned by jeweler and neighbor Lyle Morse under the name L and H Inc. Jim Thwaite owns the Berea shop.

He said he’s willing to rent the space or let the new owner buy it from him, a decision he’ll make when the time comes.

Joan Thwaite said they’ve had some interest in the business but nothing solid yet. She said their hope is to keep the business under local ownership. She said all those who have shown interest so far have been local.

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.