Downtown legacy business Cooke Stationery to close

As a partner in Cooke Stationery Company, Colleen Henery has seen the birth and then obsolescence of products. 

She sold the eight-inch disks that became memory sticks that then disappeared from the shelves when information moved into the cloud.

Now, after seeing the business through over four decades of technology changes and leading the charge to keep downtown Salem alive during the pandemic, Henery is saying goodbye to the long standing family business.

After 88 years of selling office supplies, Cooke Stationery will close its doors for the final time at the end of the day on April 28.

Henery is a third-generation owner of the store. Her grandfather on her mother’s side bought the J.K. Gill Company in 1935, and moved the shop to its current location at 370 State Street, previously home to the White House Restaurant.

Her father, James Henery, began working at the store when he returned from service in World War II, and bought the business in 1957. In 1971, he acquired  the adjacent space, doubling the size of the store. 

Both buildings are on the Adolph Block, part of the National Register of Historic Places and commemorated with a plaque that names Cooke Stationery.

A 1974 nomination form for the registry lists jewelers, watchmakers, the State Democrat newspaper, a meat market and a saloon as early tenants in the late 1800s, when downtown Salem still had dirt roads.

The Adolph Block in downtown Salem, c. 1880. (Courtesy/ U.S. Department of the Interior)

James Henery died in 1987, leaving Colleen and her brother Kip Henery to take over the store.

“It was a grieving time, because he died young, and we were kind of thrown into the fire,” she said. Kip is still a partner but retired from active involvement in 2013.

“Our employees have been wonderful throughout these years. They’ve helped us through a lot of changes,” she said.

On Friday, March 10, the sales floor remained full with office supplies and stacks of paper and toner, and customers browsed items beginning to go on sale.

One was helped by purchasing agent Roma Walther, who started working at Cooke 32 years ago.

Walther had worked at another supply store in Corvallis before moving to the Salem area, and coincidentally bought her house from Colleen and Kip’s parents.

“Office supply stores, in general to me, are fun,” Walther said. 

She does purchasing for the store, and keeps track of its non-computerized inventory on paper and in her head.

Walther teared up when talking about the owners.

“They’re good people, and they have a good set of values. And the values are: to be there for the community, be there for the people that are loyal to you,” she said. “And it’s wonderful. It’s very heartwarming. It’ll be sad.”

Walther said she wanted to thank the Henerys for the opportunity to work for them. She said she valued their family-oriented leadership, allowing her to take time off to raise a family. When she started, her daughter was just six months old.

“I mean, I could have worked other places, perhaps made more money, but there’s nothing that compares to being able to work for them,” Walther said.

The Cooke staff shined during the pandemic lockdown, when retail clerk Robin Bielefeld led the effort to create the Salem Cozy Walk to support 25 local businesses, and opened a drop box with Free Fridge Salem for food donations.

“We were trying to do anything to help the restaurants, our neighbors,” Henery said. 

Cooke kept operating, meeting customers at the door with their needed supplies.

Though things have improved since that lockdown, business isn’t the same as before, she said. Their primary customers are people who work in offices, and sales haven’t recovered.

Henery and her brother made the decision to close around December, she said. They had considered selling the business, but want to sell the buildings that they own, too. 

On March 1, they sent a letter to customers informing them about the last day for deliveries, March 30, and the retirement sale happening during the month of April.

They see many of their long-time customers on a weekly basis.

“Some of them have brought in their grandkids. That’s what I’ll miss most, is the people,” she said.

Cooke Stationery Company around the 1970s (Courtesy/ U.S. Department of the Interior)

When the long closing process is done, Henery is hoping to stay involved in the community through volunteering.

“I love Salem downtown. People either hate it or love it. I love it, it’s a community in itself, and I’ve been fortunate to be part of that community,” she said. “I’m bullish on Salem… I think it has issues and problems like every city, but it still has that small-town thing that can work on issues.”

Henery is sad to leave, but said she is looking forward to having time to breathe and take some trips to the coast. She also has a hobby of selling antiques, maintaining spaces in local antique malls.

Mid-interview, when asked about the comings-and-goings of technology, Henery leapt from her chair to show off an antique typewriter sitting in the back room. 

It’s a hefty black L.C. Smith & Bros with a red ribbon that she thinks is left over from when the store did repairs. She doesn’t know its exact age, but said that it pre-dates the 1926 merger of that company and Corona Typewriter Company.

Typewriters are among the once-obsolete items making a comeback. More and more young kids are coming in, excited to see the ribbons still for sale.

Technology progresses, she said. Blacksmiths still craft horseshoes, but aren’t needed on every street corner like before.

“It’s mixed emotions. The office supply industry has really changed.  A lot of traditional places like us, nationwide, have gone out of business. So I think I feel a little proud that we have hung on for as long as we have,” she said. “It doesn’t feel good to stop a third-generation business, but everything comes to an end, and it’s the right decision. And so here we are.”

Customers have been calling with their support, she said. She hopes the retirement sale during April will bring everyone a sense of closure, and a chance to say goodbye.

“I’m so grateful for the community, with just how much support and how much love has been given us. That’s a little flowery, but just during this whole process it’s been really sweet,” she said.

Cooke Stationery in downtown Salem will close its doors for the last time on April 28, 2023 (Abbey McDonald/ Salem Reporter)

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

SUBSCRIBE TO GET SALEM NEWS – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe today to get our daily newsletters and more. Click I want to subscribe!

Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.