When Karen Louiselle sold the Mt. Hood Country Store four years ago, she was looking for quiet times. After 10 years running the busy store on the corner of Highway 35 and Cooper Spur Road, she was ready to spend more time in her garden and pursuing her talents in home decorating and painting.
But, Louiselle says, the universe did not cooperate.
After a deal gone bad with the new owners, Louiselle found herself owning the store again in the winter of 2000.
“It was a real black cloud time,” Louiselle says. She was faced with literally starting over; there was no inventory left, and much of the store’s equipment had vanished.
Louiselle had little choice but to roll up her sleeves and go to work.
“I decided if I had to go backwards, I was going to reinvent some things,” she says. During the 10 years she’d previously owned the store, she had implemented a small take-out deli counter and also served coffee.
Now, she decided to expand on those themes.
“I wanted to give people who live here a gathering place,” she says. She created The Good Deli in a back room of the store — expanding the deli offerings and making it a sit-down eatery. And she put in a sitting area at the front of the store, with comfortable furniture surrounding a wood stove — which has become a popular stopping place in the winter for skiers on their way down from Mount Hood. She placed antiques and artwork throughout, much of it for sale on consignment.
And she built up the store’s inventory, making it once again a viable grocery.
“People aren’t going to do their weekly shopping here,” Louiselle says. “But almost anything people forget to buy, they can get here. The store has to service that need.”
Over the course of the last year-and-a-half, Louiselle has gotten the Mt. Hood Country Store back on track and turned it, once again, into one of the hubs of the Upper Valley. Along the way she’s brought on board several invaluable employees — nearly all of them women.
“A lot of times when people come in, they’ll say, ‘This store must be run by women,’” says employee Teri Byrne, laughing. Perhaps it’s the neat, orderly shelves of food or the spotless-yet-comfy feel of the place.
“All of us here are pretty creative women,” Louiselle adds. “We want to make people feel good when they come in.” Louiselle and her employees treat everyone who walks through the door with the same warm friendliness — whether they’re long-time locals with stories to tell about the store’s olden days, or bewildered tourists lost and seeking directions.
“We get a lot of that,” Louiselle says. So many people stop in to get directions to Lost Lake that they finally got a map to give out.
Although Louiselle’s “retirement” didn’t work out quite they way she’d planned, she loves being an integral part of the Upper Valley once again.
“After I sold it, I always missed the interaction with people,” she says.
She doesn’t find any particular challenges with being a woman running a business that has been a mainstay in the Hood River Valley since around the time women gained the right to vote.
“I think just being the boss is hard, whether you’re a woman or a man,” Louiselle says. “But I think this would be a different kind of store if a man ran it.”
Despite getting back into the business under less-than-ideal circumstances, Louiselle says she’s happy to be running the Mt. Hood Country Store once again.
“I think for something to be successful, it has to be a passion,” she says. “This is a passion for me and to see it work makes me think maybe I’m doing one thing I’m supposed to be doing in my life.”