Yard Birds cleans house: Owner of vacant shopping center invites public to take items for free


The parking lots at the vacant Yard Birds shopping mall in Chehalis have been mostly empty for most of the last 21 months following the mall’s permanent closure.

This week, the lots were once again bustling with activity.

Beginning Tuesday, people came by the dozens to collect free items from the sprawling facility after an announcement on Shop’n Kart market’s Facebook page announcing the free-for-all event giving away everything “as is” that is still in the closed mall. Items will remain for an undetermined amount of time to give the public an opportunity to pick through the items.

Yard Birds has been closed since August 2022, when power to the building was cut after mounting utilities bills were left unpaid and the building failed a Washington state Labor & Industries inspection. Business owners renting space inside subsequently received eviction notices.

Darris McDaniel — co-owner of both the Yard Birds property and Shop’n Kart — was at the mall on Tuesday overseeing the event. He said the items up for grabs included abandoned inventory left by former tenants and excess inventory he purchased for Shop’n Kart.

“It’s complicated, but yes, they all signed off when they left, and this stuff has just been sitting here,” McDaniel told The Chronicle.

For landlords, there are several stipulations in Washington state law that outline scenarios in which they can take possession of a tenant’s property to sell or dispose of it.

McDaniel said he purchased several truckloads of closeout merchandise to the tune of $140,000. Items ranged from furniture to shoes.

“Some of the stuff, I can’t get enough money out of it for my labor, so we’re giving it away,” McDaniel added.

At least $100,000 worth of inventory was left behind by The Squirrel Hut Boutique while AllTech Electronics left approximately $175,000 worth of inventory, according to previous reporting by The Chronicle.

The Chronicle visited AllTech at its new location on Tuesday, and though they had heard about the giveaway, they decided not to go try to retrieve any inventory still at Yard Birds. Given the time the inventory — computer parts and electronics — has now been exposed to water from leaks in the roof and a reported rat infestation, they felt there wasn’t anything worth going back for.

In total, more than 50 small businesses, including thrift stores, electronic stores, a barber shop and a blacklight minigolf course called Yard Birds home before it closed permanently in 2022.

Though most of those at Yard Birds on Tuesday were just there to grab what they could for free, some of the previous business owners who used to operate out of the mall were there as well, including Blake and Cory McDrummond — brothers who owned BnT’s American Treasures, which was located on the northeast corner of the mall.

They operated their business, which cleaned up estates along with retail stores to recycle, resell or repurpose items, for about 14 years out of Yard Birds, though unlike The Squirrel Hut and AllTech, BnT’s is not reopening.

“It was a fun time. I enjoyed doing it,” Blake said.

“The hunt was always the funnest part of it, that and meeting all the people we got to meet doing it. That was the best part,” Cory added. “... We’ve come across some pretty cool antique things you just normally wouldn’t see anywhere else.”

Now, they are collecting what they can salvage for themselves, but have no plans to reopen their business.

Blake said he was happy people were there to help them clear out everything they weren’t taking themselves.

“It feels like the end of an era. This was always somewhere to go when I was younger,” Carlee Coverdell, of Toledo, said while going through items outside of Yard Birds.

While rumors of McDaniel selling Yard Birds have circulated since the 2022 closure, McDaniel said a sale is still yet to be completed.

He first became involved with the property in 1990 when he opened the Chehalis Shop’n Kart in Yard Birds, He purchased the entire mall in 1998 with the intention “to turn it into the Yard Birds of old,” as previously reported by The Chronicle.

The rise of online shopping over the next decade saw the death of many big box retailers along with traditional shopping malls such as Yard Birds, a problem that was exacerbated in 2008 with the recession.

Flooding has also repeatedly caused damage to the property, and eventually McDaniel closed the Yard Birds Shop’n Kart in 2017.

Yard Birds was originally the idea of childhood friends Bill Jones and Rich Gillingham, who started a military surplus story in Centralia in 1947 called Two Yard Birds Surplus with two “sad sack” bird characters as store mascots.

By 1948, they had hired Dick Baker and expanded and moved the store north of the Chehalis city limits as it had become the largest surplus store on the West Coast they claimed. 

A decade later, the building was expanded to 110,000 square feet and featured 16 separate departments with five additional businesses leasing space inside Yard Birds.

Eventually, Yard Birds outgrew the space and moved to its current building in 1971 between Kresky and National avenues, which has over 300,000 square feet of space and boasted sales of everything from automotive parts and tools to housewares, furniture and clothing.

A 60-foot steel and fiberglass yard bird statue was also erected outside of the mall both as a tourist attraction and to let those driving on Interstate 5 know where Yard Birds was, but it burned down in 1976 after Wayne Honeycut’s car caught fire underneath it. Another large Yard Bird remains on the property today.

Other Yard Birds malls were opened in Olympia and Shelton, but both closed by 1995.

For a full history of Yard Birds and more information about the old shopping mall, visit https://www.yardbirdshistory.com/timeline/