Editor’s note: “The Business Scene” focus page runs once a month in the second issue of every month. If you would like to suggest a business to focus on, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enumclaw has a rich business history — Mutual of Enumclaw is more than a century old, and restaurants and taverns like The Lee, Krain Corner, and the Rainier Bar and Grill are close on its heels.
So Gamblin Motors may still look like a young ‘un to those dinosaurs, but hitting the 50-year mark is no small achievement, either.
The Chevrolet and Buick dealership celebrated its golden anniversary at the beginning of the month, marking the occasion when Art Gamblin moved his family — which included almost 14-year-old Alan Gamblin, the current owner — from Idaho to The Claw.
“My father got in the business in a roundabout way,” Gamblin recalled. “He was a high school teacher and a football coach… his good friend, a Chevrolet dealer about his age, said, ‘Come sell cars for those three months you’re not working in the summer.’”
Clearly, it was a decision that completely changed Art’s life.
“He was a natural car salesman, and made more money selling cars than he did teaching school all year long,” Gamblin said.
Art spent six years as a salesperson before buying his first dealership, and went through another two dealerships before buying Enumclaw’s Paulson’s Motors and moved his family west in 1969.
His son was not altogether happy about the move.
“[It] was kind of a hard deal, because in Idaho, you can drive at 14, and I’d already gone through drivers training,” Gamblin said, maybe still a little bitter he had to wait two extra years to get his license.
Enumclaw’s downtown looked much different back when Art arrived — his first building was right across from The Lee, next to what’s now the Ski Inn Tavern.
“Rotary Park was where our used car lot was, and where the Loggers Memorial [is], our service department cars,” Gamblin continued. “The railroad ran through there at that point. And that spa behind the dealership, that was our new car lot.”
Things had to change, though, when the railroad sold the property rights to the city.
At this point, Gamblin had filled his father’s shoes, becoming the dealer in 1985.
Originally, he went to school (Brigham Young University) for business, and was even thinking about being an attorney, but the dealership has other plans.
“Fate saved me,” Gamblin laughed, recalling that he left college to help his dad as a sales manager. “He ended up finding a really good sales manager, so I sold cars for six years, and took [my father’s] place. I just never looked back.”
One of his first major decisions was needing to relocate the dealership, since the city wanted it out of downtown; Gamblin Motors moved to where it currently resides — kitty-corner to the Expo Center’s Field House — in 1987.
The plan was to expand in that area, Gamblin continued, but King County purchased the development rights to the farmland around the dealership; this led to the Gamblin Motors’ truck center being built west of the main dealership in 2000.
By then, Gamblin was the full owner of the dealership, having purchased his father’s half of the business in 1992.
And with a fresh remodel of the main dealership in 2015, Gamblin Motors stands to stick around for many, many more years.
A PART OF THE WIDER COMMUNITY
Although the dealership is relegated to a far corner of Enumclaw, Gamblin and his family are highly involved in many central community groups, events, and organizations.
“My father was pretty active in the Chamber of Commerce and other civic organizations, as well as fundraising for the emergency room at the hospital,” Gamblin said, referring to the old Enumclaw Community Hospital. “We’ve been able to carry on that tradition.”
For example, there is the Art Gamblin Memorial Scholarship, created after Gamblin’s father passed away in 2002, which has awarded a total of $27,000 to Enumclaw High School students over the last 14 years.
Gamblin himself is also a board member of the Rainier Foothills Wellness Foundation, the past president (and current secretary) of the Washington State Auto Dealers Association and a member of other auto organizations, and participates in the Enumclaw Rotary.
And it’s not just Gamblin’s direct family that’s involved in the community, either, but his work family as well; employees help organize a community coat drive every year, and serves food during Calvary Presbyterian’s Full Bellies hot meal program.
Finally, the dealership is a financial sponsor to many of the Plateau’s most popular attractions, from the Scottish Highland Games, the annual Street Fair, and the Pro Rodeo in Enumclaw to Black Diamond’s Farmer’s Market and the Buckley Log Show.
And although it’s not a part of the dealership’s activities, Jeri Gamblin is one of the managers of the local Just Serve website (www.justserve.org), which helps community members find local nonprofits and volunteer activities.
She was also a driving force behind Enumclaw and Buckley following in Bonney Lake’s footsteps with their own beautification events, which started in 2018; this year, Beautify Enumclaw and Beautify Buckley are being planned for Sept. 14 from 9 a.m. to noon.
TACKLING THE CHANGING TIMES
As a businessman, Gamblin has to be able to read the tea-leaves of the often-unpredictable shifts in society in order to stay afloat.
But in general, he doesn’t appear to be too worried about how a changing Enumclaw will affect him.
“If you take care of the customer, they’ll take care of you,” he said.
Of course, there are a few ways Enumclaw has changed that he may have preferred to stay the same; he specifically mentioned the lack of a men’s department store.
“You could buy shirts and hats and socks and underwear, and now there’s no place in Enumclaw to do that, really,” he said. “You can still buy barn boots here, but to get other things, you’ve got to out of town to do it.”
That might not be a big issue for some, but Gamblin believes it’s indicative of a larger problem in our society.
“When I first got in the business, you bought local. That’s just what you did. There’s not much of that anymore, with the advent of the internet,” Gamblin said. “Often times, people don’t see the big picture of why it’s important to buy local. It strengthens your tax bases, it puts money into your schools, it does all these things — and yet, people don’t understand that.”
He also bemoaned how expensive the cost of living has become, wondering how new families are affording to get by.
Part of the answer to that conundrum is moving here.
“The city itself has grown. There’s no doubt about that. And as the county continues to push people out of the county into small town and municipalities, it’ll continue to grow,” he continued. “We’re seeing a big face of that right now, with all the subdivisions being built.”
But that’s not a negative thing for Gamblin, who said he enjoys watching new families come to the Plateau and enjoy the kind of life the area brings.
“I think they bring a lot of diversity,” he continued. “It’s been fun hearing kids playing across the street, where we didn’t have that before. I think for most people that’s probably pretty normal, but for me, it’s a change.”
However Enumclaw changes in the future, though, Gamblin plans for his dealership to still be here, helping folks into a shiny new or used car; Tyson Gamblin is currently a sales manager, and Andrew recently graduated from college and is now selling cars.
“The third generation is here,” he said.