Patrick Oldright and Amie Fedorka take over the iconic store
When looking for a job, the interview process usually ends when a person is hired.
Not so for Patrick Oldright, who along with partner, Amie Fedorka, took over ownership of the Corbett Country Market in July.
'I still get a job interview every day,' Oldright said, laughing. 'People come in here and ask, 'Where are you from?' 'Who are you?' I understand it though. This is their community, and they want to know who's behind the counter. The store is partly theirs, and it means a lot to them.'
For nearly 100 years, the Corbett Country Market has been a landmark and gathering place for tourists and locals alike. Its home-cooking, legendary butchering services and old-school gas pump have been a last stop for back-road passers-by entering the Columbia River Gorge and a first stop, for others, craving a morning cup of Joe.
But the market also holds bragging rights with continual ownership by Corbett residents. Like the five owners before them, Oldright and Fedorka have roots in the Corbett area and a son who attends kindergarten in the school district.
According to Susan Leigh, who bought the market in 1999, finding the right people to further the tradition of Corbett-family ownership was a dream come true.
'When I decided to retire, it was with one condition,' Leigh said. 'I wanted the market to retain its reputation for being at the core of the community and new owners who would have the energy and inspiration to continue that vision. Patrick and Amie are exactly what I'd hoped for.'
Oldright is no stranger to Corbett, nor to Leigh. A Colorado native, who studied design at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., Oldright spent 17 years working seasonally in Corbett on a private ongoing construction project. He liked the area, despite the 'brutal winters,' and settled in nearby Aims with Fedorka eight years ago.
'Corbett is not like any place I'd ever been,' Oldright said. 'It's very similar to (Granby, Colo.), where I grew up, so it was easy to stay.'
But it was a chance meeting with Leigh in 1999 that set in motion a 13-year friendship between the pair and an eventual passing of the torch.
'I'd been coming into the store every day for a long time,' Oldright said. 'Susan's first day as owner was really busy, and I could see she was sort of frazzled. I asked if I could do anything for her, and she asked me to go get the mail. So, I did! Over the years, I've pumped gas, shared recipes with her and helped out if she needed it. I still call her to bounce ideas around.'
Leigh's first undertaking as owner in 1999 was an extensive remodel to the building. She replaced equipment, laid new floors and added a café area for gatherings. She also introduced gift items made in the community and expanded the wine selection to include regional vintages, which retained the local charm sought by both tourists and locals.
But 'life changes' occurring over the years began to drain her energy and last December she once again accepted Oldright's offer of assistance.
'I wasn't feeling well and Patrick asked if he could do anything to help,' Leigh said. 'I told him to buy a lottery ticket, win $1 million and buy the store.'
Oldright thought she was joking, but he called Leigh later in the evening and confirmed the market's need for a new owner.
'I was working as a handy-man in Portland at the time,' he said. 'The drive was eating up all my gas. So buying the store and working closer to home sounded good. My commute now is less than 10 minutes. Best move I could have made.'
The market is a family operation, Oldright said, listing his two brothers and Fedorka as his biggest backers. He and Fedorka 'interned' with Leigh for two months before finally flying solo two months ago and count their five-year old son, Dyson, as a valued employee.
'He helps out around the store, and it's good because he has jobs to do,' Oldright said. 'He straightens up the candy aisle and it's unbelievable - he likes having chores.'
The Corbett Country Market will continue to be a community store, Oldright said, noting there are no plans to change the services and goods folks have come to expect. There may be new owners, but you'll still be greeted on a first-name basis by familiar faces.
'I've done a lot of jobs and a lot of weird jobs,' Oldright said, 'but I've never had one that's all-consuming in a good way. This was the best move I ever made. I was comfortable with the store before, but now, it's just in a different role. And we're settling in well.'
WhAT: Corbett Country Market, which offers take and bake pizza, Northwest wines and micro brews, wild game processing, custom butchering and smoking, gift items and books by local artisans and authors.
Where: 36801 E.
Historic Columbia River Highway
Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday