Yard Birds Tenants Evicted, Building’s Future Uncertain


Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly cited Garet Russo as the owner of Yard Birds.

Yard Birds has officially closed.

Tenants who had been renting storage space and operating businesses have been given until midnight on Nov. 30 to vacate the building.

“Effective Dec. 1, 2022 at 12:01 a.m. you will be required to surrender possessions of the premises to the owner of the property,” read an excerpt from dozens of different eviction notices taped to the doors of Yard Birds Wednesday morning.

The Chronicle spoke briefly to Yard Birds representaitve Garet Russo, who was meeting with electricians from Maneman Electric Inc. on Wednesday morning, about the current situation. Russo said the evictions and closure were due to a combination of unpaid utility bills and failed Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) inspections.

“We’re trying to get everything fixed from the crypto-mining people, what they did to it, trying to get everything back up to L&I electrical code. They cut into panels and took a bunch of stuff out,” Russo said of a cryptocurrency business that had been operating in the sprawling building.

The miners left following a moratorium on cryptocurrency mining passed by the City of Chehalis back in June.

Russo added that while he didn’t have the exact figure, there were outstanding utility bills totaling “over $100,000” to be paid still and other repairs needed besides electrical work. One other major issue is that despite the evictions, people are still prohibited by the city from entering the building due to the power being out. 

“We’re trying our best to work with the city and PUD to get it back open up so people can come and get their stuff out,” Russo said.

He said the situation is evolving day-to-day and the building will have to be reinspected by L&I before power can be restored. 

“One way or the other it’s still gonna be something. It’s not just gonna sit here empty and fall apart, that’s not the goal. We’re in the process of taking it back from the last people that had it who we tried to sell it to and picking up the pieces and doing the best we can. I know it’s bad for a lot of people. We’re trying our best to do the best we can,” Russo said.

The Chronicle was able to get in contact with one of the tenants being evicted. Michael Cristina, owner of the Skindoodle Tattoo in Yard Birds, is disappointed in how the whole situation has been handled.

He initially moved his studio to the building in January and said he even paid three months worth of rent ahead of time. He had invested a lot in the location over this past year. Cristina stated that despite that, communication with Yard Birds management has been lacking.

“There was no warning or anything and suddenly on Aug. 29 the power went out. Now this eviction too, I don’t even know if they can get everyone and their stuff out of there by the end of the month. I’m left with no choice but to just leave,” Cristina said.

According to the date on the eviction notices posted to the door, they were issued Oct. 24.

Cristina’s been tattooing for 40 years and lived in the area for more than three decades. Despite this setback, he told The Chronicle he intends to remain in the area and reopen his studio in downtown Centralia, where he originally opened it on Tower Avenue in 1994.

“I’ve been here since ‘89, seen a lot come and go, but I’ve still never seen anything like this,” said Cristina.

Centralia local Tawnya Fox also spoke to The Chronicle on Facebook to share her thoughts on Yard Birds closing.

“The slow disappearance of our known landmark brings with it the loss of important childhood memories and experiences for generations to come, in my opinion. Like many, I grew up with Yard Birds being one of few places to shop, they had everything and the deals, oh my!” said Fox.

She added she would often meet up with friends there for meals and coffee, and even took dance lessons there.

“Their holiday events were like a scene from a movie with such fanfare and energy. Yard Birds meant a lot to many of us. For myself, I truly miss the camaraderie of all the locals that spent their time there, either working or just hanging out. Yard Birds has and always will have a place in my heart,” Fox said.

In a news release received Wednesday afternoon, the City of Chehalis announced it closed the building through condemnation due to the ongoing lack of power and other hazards present.

“This condemnation process is not intended to be a permanent process and likely can be resolved quickly through prompt action by the building owner to restore electrical service to the building,” stated the news release. “The City does not provide electrical services and cannot restore power to a privately owned building on behalf of the owner. The City’s only goal is to promote public safety. Once the building owner restores power and basic safety measures are in place, the City can allow the owner to re-open the building. If the building owners cannot make arrangements with Lewis County PUD to restore power in the near future, the City will consider proposals by the building owner(s) to allow tenants access to remove personal property in a safe manner.”

The City of Chehalis filed a lawsuit against entities involved with the Yard Birds Shopping Center earlier this year after the mall failed to come into compliance with a number of city code violations.

Specifically, the lawsuit was filed against Peat LLC and R&D Research & Development LLC.


Here’s a timeline of Yard Birds from https://www.yardbirdshistory.com/

1947: Boyhood friends, Bill Jones and Rich Gillingham, start a war surplus in an old garage on the corner of Harrison and Yew in Centralia, Washington. They call it Two Yard Birds Surplus with two “Sad Sack” characters as store mascots.

1947: In November, Bill and Rich move their enterprise north of the Chehalis city limits, on Highway 99. Open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., every day, Bill and Rich, and their wives, Katy and Hazel, work 18 hours a day. Soon Two Yard Birds Surplus was being touted as the “Largest Surplus Store on the West Coast.” With unusual advertising, eclectic merchandise and an offbeat sense of humor the store draws customers from all over the state.

1947: Dick Baker is hired. Additional Quonset huts expand the Two Yard Birds Surplus.

1948: Opening just in time for the Christmas rush, a building is added to house the biggest Toyshop for miles around.

1958: The store, now known as Yard Birds, is 110,00 square feet, with 16 departments and five businesses leasing space within the store.

1959: Bill and Rich purchase an old cannery in Olympia to start a sister store. This store is called Seamart. Later it takes on the Yard Birds name.

1969: Construction begins on a giant, 60-foot sculpture of a Yard Bird, the store’s new mascot, to welcome to the new Yard Birds store.

1971: The colossal new Yard Birds store, with 305,00 square feet and 350 employee, opens just up the road. The new store boasts a boggling array of merchandise: automotive, sporting goods, hardware, housewares, furniture, shoes and clothing for the whole family, a restaurant with Birds’ Nest cocktail lounge and a car wash. Some of the leased spaces include: A country and western store, Linda Wagner’s School of Dance, Twin City Radio and TV, a bank, a grocery store, a drug store, an arcade, optometrists and Army and Navy recruiting offices.

1971: A 60 ft sculpture of a Yard Bird, which can be seen from I-5, is erected at the entrance to the new Yard Birds store. Made of steel, with wire framework covered in 800 pounds of fiberglass, visitors can drive their cars through its legs on their way out of the store.

1971: In January, 6 inches of water flood Yard Birds.

1976: In March of this year, Rich Gillingham crashes his plane at Copalis Beach. The damaged plane is accidentally dropped when being airlifted by a helicopter — eliminating any chance of repair. Ever mindful of new and exciting promotions for the store, Bill and Rich display the wreckage at Yard Birds.

1976: Rich Gillingham sells his interest in both Yard Birds stores to Bill Jones. Rich gets the title to the old Yard Birds building, which comes to be called Sunbirds. Gillingham partially retires, building a house in Fords Prairie and playing the drums at the local dance hall.

1976: In June the Pay-N-Save Corporation buys the Chehalis Yard Birds store for $8.5 million. Bill Jones retires to 110-acre farm off Martin Way.

1976: Wayne Honeycut’s car catches fire under the giant 60-foot sculpture of a Yard Bird. With in minutes the statue is burnt to a crisp.

1979: Yard Birds Shelton is opened.

1979: Ever the entrepreneur, Bill Jones starts Jones Quarry. He goes on to develop other businesses throughout Thurston and Lewis counties.

1987: The Employee Stock Ownership Plan swings a $12 million deal to purchase Yard Birds from the Pay-N-Save Corporation. In 1987 employee stock is worth $17.50 per share by 1995. It is at 16 cents per share.

1990: In January, heavy rains and a broken dike flood Yard Birds Chehalis with more than 18 inches of water. The store closes for eight days. The flood causes an estimated $1.1 million in damage.

1992: Rich Gillingham passes away.

1993: Yard Birds Olympia closes.

1995: Chairman of the Board, George Lee confirms the closure of Yard Birds Chehalis. Employees loose thousands of dollars in personal investments. Many lessees decide to stay on at Yard Birds location, hoping that things will turn around.

1995: Yard Birds Shelton closes.

1996: A dam breaks and floods the Lewis County area, including Yard Birds Chehalis, so badly that FEMA is flown in to help.

1998: Darris McDaniel and Ray Caldwell purchases Yard Birds Chehalis.

2003: Bill Jones passes away.