This past July, a two-alarm fire melted the ceiling and walls of Bob's Quality Meats, the Columbia City butcher shop that has been run by the Ackley family since the late 1970s. (The building, built in 1892, has been a meat store, owned and operated by multiple generations of two different families, since 1909.) The fire caused more than $300,000 in property and product damage. As customers, myself very much included, mourned the closure of Bob's, owners James and Thien Ackley vowed that they would return.
As of yesterday, Bob's is back in business. When I stopped in yesterday morning just after 9 a.m., hoping to buy pounds of the excellent housemade chorizo, bratwurst, and Cajun boudin blanc that I've been missing for far too long, I was disappointed to find the door locked. But James Ackley was nice enough to let me in, even though the sign in the window read "Closed" and the brand-new meat case that runs almost the entire length of the store was empty, save for a few steaks. Ackley said they would be opening the doors at 10 a.m., even if they didn't have much to sell right away.
"I'd shake your hand," he told me. "But it's kind of gross since I'm in the middle of cutting meat."
People who have been shopping at Bob's for years will be relieved to know that the place has the same familiar layout and feel, but with a few upgrades. Refrigerators and freezers line one wall, soon to be filled with assorted frozen meats, lard, and bones for making stock. A shiny metro shelf rack holding a big box of yellow onions awaited other basic pantry items that Bob's always stocks so you don't have to make an extra trip to the grocery store.
Along with the new meat case, the Ackleys have taken out the old fluorescent track lighting and replaced it with antique-looking milk glass hanging lamps.
"We got rid of the fluorescent stuff, and these—which I actually think look a lot better—are all LED," Ackley said, pointing to the ceiling. "So we're more energy-efficient now."
Above the meat case, though, hang lights that point toward the Ackley's long family history. The corrugated tin lamp shades are the same ones that hung in the butcher shop Ackley's grandfather, Joe, opened in eastern Washington in 1909. Ackley's father, Bob, opened his store in West Seattle in 1967. James Ackley took over the Bob's Columbia City shop in 1997, and his own son, Abe, now manages much of Bob's' day-to-day operations.
The family has been working hard for the last five months to get Bob's back up and running, but they've also relied on support from the community. The Ackleys placed petitions at neighboring businesses such as Columbia City Bakery, Full Tilt Ice Cream, and Tin Umbrella Coffee to collect signatures as part of an application process for a Saving Landmarks grant from 4Culture and King County. The family received $200,000 to restore the historic building and their family legacy.
Just before Thanksgiving, the busiest time of year for Bob's, the Ackleys received so many requests from customers who order their signature smoked turkeys for their holiday dinners (Bob's typically sells around 500 of them every year) that they went ahead and took a limited number of orders. Because the butcher shop was still under construction, the family sold them out of a refrigerator at Claws & Paws, the pet shop they own in nearby Hillman City.
Now, Bob's is open, just in time for a busy Christmas season. "Order Now," a butcher paper sign in the window reads, listing suggestions such as prime rib, crown roast, honey-glazed spiral-cut ham, and "Our Own Down Home Ham."
"When you're closed for almost six months, you worry that people forget about you," Ackley told me. "So we want everyone to know, we're back. We're still here."