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Historic Denson Feed & Seed sold to Wilco; moving to new store

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A Corvallis institution is closing its doors after 84 years.

Denson Feed & Seed Store — a third-generation, family-owned farm, garden and pet supply store — has been sold to Wilco, a farmer-owned cooperative with 15 locations in Oregon and Washington.

The purchase coincides with the opening of Wilco’s new 20,000-square-foot store in north Corvallis and the closing of its 5,500-square-foot retail store in Tangent.

The cooperative plans to shift employees from Denson and the Tangent Wilco to its new Corvallis location, which opens July 15 off Circle Boulevard at 1905 N.E. Four Acre Place.

The last day Denson will operate as a feed and seed store is July 14, but Wilco plans a two-week clearance event in the building starting July 17.

Owner Casey Denson said he is ready for something else. He began working at his family’s feed store on July 5, 1975.

“I’m still young enough — I’d like to go out and do other things,” he said. “The only plan I have right now is to take a little break and recharge my batteries.”

Times have changed since his grandfather, Floyd Denson, opened the store in 1930 to supply local farmers with tractors and fertilizer. The business moved to its current location at 530 S.W. Seventh St. in 1940 and, over the years, transitioned into a retail shop that sells everything from clothing to fly traps to horse tack.

Denson is a store from another era, where employees carry out customers’ purchases to their cars, and the manager addresses all the regulars by name.

“Back in those days, when my grandfather ran the store, we had tractors and combines,” Casey Denson said.

Wooden loading platforms are at the right height for stacking seed and feed bags onto flatbed farm pickups and wagons.

The current location, he said, “was considered the edge of town at the time.”

The industry also has changed. The 10-12,000-square-foot storage and retail space is no longer big enough to carry all of the different types of products customers are looking for, Denson said.

“My store is basically too small,” he said. “In my decision making, it’s, did I want to go and build a whole new store, or did I want to merge it with a store that’s already doing that? Wilco is already going strong.”

The plan for the old building, which is located in a part of Corvallis that is zoned for manufacturing and general industrial, is to rent it out to a new tenant, Denson said.

Wilco plans to continue selling many of the niche feed and seed products that Denson customers are accustomed to buying.

It’s a Wilco strategy to purchase the local feed store when it moves into a new marketplace.

“Whenever we go into communities, we always reach out,” Wilco marketing manager Jake Wilson said. “We like to work with local businesses and local feed stores.”

Wilco purchased and took over the Foothills Feed and Garden in Lebanon in 2009 and, in 2012, opened a bigger store that still has some of the same key employees from Foothills.

Wilco benefits, Wilson said, because it retains local, knowledgeable employees and it has the opportunity to retain the same customer base.

“Some of the biggest things are that it gives us the opportunity to meet new customers because it’s local, established and well-known,” he said.

About nine part-time employees and Casey Denson’s full-time assistant manager, Ross Carter, will transition to the Corvallis Wilco. Denson store manager Delbert Hutchison, however, is not sure what comes next for him. He’s worked at Denson for 35 years.

“I haven’t got a clue yet, haven’t got a clue,” he said Friday between helping customers. “It’s going to be something different than retail. I’ll fish on the weekends, or hunt.”

Customers are distressed about losing Denson, but Hutchison takes a practical view.

“A lot of people are mad, but it’s a good decision — it really is,” he said.

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