Coupeville teacher closes books to run South Whidbey store

A respected Central Whidbey school teacher and tennis coach has bid adieu to a life of academia to become the proud new owner of Bailey’s Corner Store in Cultus Bay.

A respected Central Whidbey school teacher and tennis coach has bid adieu to a life of academia to become the proud new owner of Bailey’s Corner Store in Cultus Bay.

Ken Stange, who taught in Coupeville for more than a decade, resigned his position in the district this summer and purchased the convenience store and gas station. He’s spent the past couple of months learning the secrets of operating cash registers, fuel pumps and inventory, but only officially took the reins Dec. 1.

Located at the intersection of Cultus Bay and Jewett roads, the store has existed for “60 to 80 years” — the exact history is uncertain — and Stange recognized the responsibility that comes with the purchase. A holdout from the small general stores that once served tiny and isolated communities on South Whidbey, such as Maxwelton, it’s considered by many to be a community treasure.

“This is their place, and I want to keep that,” he said.

A grand opening, which was held Dec. 4-5 included live music by a bluegrass quartet.

Stange purchased the store/gas station from Tom and Sherry Eggleston for an undisclosed sum. The couple still own the complex, which includes several buildings and land — Stange bought the business.

The store was operated by family members and struggled in recent years, said Tom Eggleston, but he believes Stange has the right stuff to bring it back to life. Before retiring, Tom Eggleston worked for “corporate America” as a business consultant.

“Ken has the key elements (to being a successful business owner): want, drive and desire,” he said.

Stange has no big plans or changes in mind, rather he hopes to bring back certain services and commodities. For starters, the store will soon be stocked with more variety for people’s refrigerators.

“It’s down to chips, soda and beer,” Stange said. “So, I want to get groceries again.”

He’s also hoping to spice up the attached beer garden. It’s still a great place to hang out but Stange has visions of firing up the grill and offering “real food” on a more regular basis by this spring. Beverages simply go better with food, he said.

“When I go somewhere, I want something to eat with my beer. And more than chips,” he said.

The place is permitted as a restaurant and beer garden, which means it’s not just a bar for adults but is a family friendly establishment. Stange wants a place where everyone can come and relax, listen to music, eat a burger and enjoy a beer or soda.

Stange is excited about the improvements and hopes it will draw in more customers, though Tom Eggleston says it’s already a community hangout. He referred particularly to the regulars who occupy the seats in front of the store on a nearly daily basis to shoot the breeze or catch up on current events. Whatever the topic, it’s a fun group, he said.

“The porch needs a camera,” he said. “It’s a reality TV show.”

Stange, who recently bought a house in Freeland, says though he’s set down his school books for good, he has no plans to give up coaching tennis — it will “keep him sane” as he embarks on this new adventure.

Bailey’s Corner Store hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and open “until it gets slow” on weekends. To check on hours, call the store at 360-579-1814.