Steve Dowell sat down for an interview Monday in the small office of his fireplace and stone business in Kent when the desk phone rang.
“Dowell Company, Steve here,” he said. “What style? Castaway? We have some on sale. Our last day is Friday. Let me get your name and number. I’ll check and see and we’ll get back to you.”
That’s a conversation Dowell has had thousands of times since he opened the business 55 years ago at 760 Central Avenue N. But it’s also one of his final work conversations. He sold the property to a group called 760 Central, LLC. The final day of business is Sept. 18.
So, why sell now?
“I’m 90,” Dowell said about his decision to finally retire. “That’s one of the reasons. And we had an acceptable buyer. I’m finally out of here on Friday.”
Gone, but not forgotten.
“I’ve had people coming in and they’ve actually shed a couple of tears because it’s going out of business,” said office manager Nicki McDonald, one of three employees. “They’re astonished because it’s been here so long. It’s like an icon of Kent.”
McDonald worked just two years for Dowell, but quickly fell in love with the job.
“It’s absolutely amazing.,” she said. “It’s family oriented and the customers are fabulous. I’ve never worked for anybody better than Mr. Dowell. He is an amazing person inside and out. He’d give you the world if he could.”
Dowell developed a close working relationship with the customers.
“The masons and contractors have been wonderful,” he said. “That’s always something I’ll remember, the customers. There’s quite a list of customers. …landscapers, fireplace builders.”
That certainly makes sense, but why do it for 55 years and until you’re 90?
“I don’t know,” Dowell said. “I just stuck with it and kept going. I didn’t have anything else to do.”
Dowell, however, has done plenty else. Then-Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke even proclaimed Steve Dowell Day in the city on July 11, 2014, because of everything he’s done for the community.
Those accomplishments include six years (1986-1992) as a member of the Kent City Council; nearly two decades as a member of the city’s Land Use and Planning Board and was the board’s first chairman; a member of the Kent Chamber of Commerce for many years and served as one of its first presidents; and he was instrumental in creating the Kent Rotary Club in 1958 and has been a member of the Rotary ever since, having served as its president on two separate occasions with a perfect attendance record for 62 years.
In addition, Dowell and his wife, Jeannine, who were married in 1952, raised three children at their Scenic Hill home who each graduated from Kent-Meridian High School. Theresa is an attorney in Arizona, Chris an architect in Seattle, and Todd is a senior deputy prosecuting attorney in Kitsap County.
Steve and Jeannine Dowell each grew up in Seattle. He graduated from Lakeside School, and she graduated from Queen Anne High. After graduating from Whitman College in Walla Walla in 1948, he served in the Marine Corps and the Korean War.
After the Marine Corps, Dowell went to work for Stoneway Sand and Gravel in Renton. When the company decided it wanted a presence in Kent, Dowell took on the project and eventually moved to Kent to live, just several blocks from the business, which he later took over from Stoneway.
“We opened up and built this building,” Dowell said looking out the window to Central Avenue, a busy five-lane road where afternoon traffic backs up well beyond his store. “There was one lane of travel going each way at that time.”
With retirement finally here, Dowell doesn’t have any big plans.
“I haven’t even thought about it,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of puttering to do around the house, but we haven’t planned anything.”
Dowell never expected to be in business so many decades.
”We have been here a long time,” he said. “It seems like yesterday.”
The Dowell Co., property was purchased by 760 Central, LLC, according to a Sept. 18 email from Doug Freyberg of 760 Central, LLC.
“We will be clearing the yard area, reroofing and residing the building and intend to lease it out,” Freyberg said.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated with information about the property sale.