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Behind Every Good Hat Is A Good Story: This Is The Wapiti Woolies Story

By RSIR Staff |

Longtime local hat maker Wapiti Woolies hits the market.

Greenwater natives Bob and Debbie Grubb announced earlier this week that after many years, they have decided to sell their iconic retail business and coffee shop, Wapiti Woolies. Just 20 minutes from Crystal Mountain Ski Resort, Wapiti Woolies serves as a pit stop for countless skiers in the winter, and summer’s sightseers, hikers, and gondola riders. The successful shop is currently offered at $1,500,000 and is represented by Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty brokers Andy Keating and Brian Hopper.

Wapiti Woolies owners Bob & Debbie Grubb.
Wapiti Woolies owners Bob & Debbie Grubb.

“Anyone who has ever stopped in at Wapiti Woolies to grab a coffee or a hat has certainly not left without a warm greeting from Bob or Debbie,” said Hopper. “They are not only local legends, but some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”

And legends they are. They have been figures in the area for quite some time. Debbie grew up on the sunny beaches of Cape Cod Massachusetts, while Bob, who spent his childhood in Sumner, quickly moved to the mountains at his first chance to enjoy the skiing and mountain lifestyle he craved. In those early days, Bob worked any job at Crystal Mountain he could get his hands on to support his ski habit. Winter after winter went by, but Bob’s life would soon change as Debbie showed up on the scene, taking a job at the Alpine Inn. Beach girl met mountain man, and the rest was history! That was the start of their relationship and the ski hat business that would come to be known as Wapiti Woolies, a retail and coffee shop that serves fantastic ice cream every summer.

“What the Grubbs have built here in Greenwater is far more than a business. They have built a community – and that is something special,” added Keating.

In 1974, the Grubbs got their start making hats in the cabin Bob owned in Greenwater, and in 1976 moved down Highway 410 to a small building that used to house Buzzy’s Restaurant. During the winter of 1977, the entrepreneurial couple moved to the old Greenwater General Store to its present location. The name of their business seemed to come easy for Bob and Debbie.

The thriving coffee shop at Wapiti Woolies.
The thriving coffee shop at Wapiti Woolies.

“We took out a tablet and started writing down names we liked,” said Bob. “Wapiti is the Native American word for elk, which made sense for the area. Woolies seemed good as we were knitting wool hats. Plus, Wapiti Woolies seemed kind of like a cool name.”

Quite different from today, during those early years Wapiti Woolies was a winter time only business, with the Grubb’s selling knitted ski hats and sweaters, and living above the store. In November 1978 they had their first child, Melissa. The thriving business kept expanding along with their family, as daughter Jill came along and they added more living space to the building in 1986. A short time later they built a home nearby, which opened up space in the shop so they could expand to include a coffee shop and serve ice cream in the warmer months. It has been a tremendous success, and many customers that frequent Wapiti Woolies have become lifelong friends of the Grubbs.

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The Grubb girls, circa the late 1980s, in handmade hats & sweaters.

The Grubb children grew up as avid skiers, with the slopes becoming their way of life. Melissa became a ski instructor at Crystal Mountain when she was just 14, later moving to Jackson Hole to teach skiing there, where she met her husband Tim. Melissa now owns a hair salon in West Seattle, though is often found on the mountain by winter. Jill still loves to ski as well, competing as a child with membership to the Crystal Mountain Alpine Club (CMAC). Today, Jill’s daughter is a member of the CMAC race team and you can find Jill cheering her on each weekend. Jill is also an active part of the family business today, working as the shop manager of Wapiti Woolies.

Bob and Debbie still ski more than ever, and enjoy traveling when they can. “We are about to embark on the trip of a lifetime to Nepal to solidify our knitting operation there, and just returned from an amazing skiing adventure in Chamonix, France,” Debbie said.

The back deck - in the summer, you'll find many gathering here to enjoy the sights & sounds of the area.
The back deck – in the summer, you’ll find many gathering here to enjoy the sights & sounds of the area.

Debbie is an accomplished skier in her own right, and keeps up with the best of them. While the mountains have been the Grubbs calling for years, they also enjoy time at the beach, taking an annual trip to Hawaii to soak up the sun.

The Grubbs haven’t thought about a life without the shop, but one thing’s for sure: you can still find them up at Crystal Mountain, and for now at the shop they started back in 1974.

“This is a special one for me to be a part of. Growing up in Enumclaw, we would come by and visit with the Grubbs nearly every time we went to Crystal Mountain to ski,” reflected Hopper. “I could not be happier for them as they move into their next chapter and can’t wait to see where adventure takes them.”

The Wapiti Woolies shop sits on a shy, half acre with a newly paved parking lot. The shop is 2,559 square feet with 3 bedrooms upstairs plus a loft, a downstairs kitchen, balcony, back porch, covered storage, and endless potential.