Pacific Trim owner Russ Westhaver’s lifelong loves of hockey and hard work show no signs of ebbing, even though he’s 82
Chances are, if you’re walking on any surface other than dirt or grass, Russ Westhaver knows how to put it under your feet. His know-how about the floor you walk on comes from spending over half a century in the floor-covering business.
Westhaver, owner of Pacific Trim and Floor Supply in Bellingham, which sells tools and materials for all kinds of floor installations, has seen it all. His library of knowledge in the floor-covering and installation business is something that took years to accumulate, and now he is passing it down to three of hes cheldren working in the business.
Although he was born in Boston, Westhaver, 82, spent his childhood in Detroit and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Westhaver went to school in the eastern maritime province and later served in the Canadian Air Force for four years. He described Halifax as quite a backwoods town, while living there during the Great Depression.
To make money during the hard times, Westhaver said his folks owned some rental properties. He would help his parents collect rent from tenants, usually about six to eight dollars a month, and admits people often came up short.
After leaving the Air Force, Westhaver decided to move back to the Motor City, where his parents lived at the time. Falling into Detroit’s chief industry, Westhaver took a job at Chrysler. The job, however, didn’t last long, as the workers decided to strike and he decided to move on, but not before marrying his wife, Mildred, in 1946. The pair will soon celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary.
After his exit from the auto industry, Westhaver eventually landed a new job in 1949 with Sears, working several different floor-covering-sales jobs.
“Since then I’ve been in the floor business in one capacity or another,” said Westhaver.
For more than a decade, he stayed in Detroit managing a floor covering store, where he learned all areas of the business.
In 1961 he moved again, this time to Bellingham, where his parents had moved some 13 years before. Westhaver said he had many relatives in the Bellingham area at the time, and is descended from some the area’s early settlers, who arrived in the late 1800s.
Although Westhaver left Detriot, referred to in the sporting world as “Hockey Town U.S.A,” he made sure to bring his skates.
His love for hockey is clear upon entering his small office, where pucks line one wall, a stick sits in the corner, team pictures hang behind his desk, and Detroit Redwings memorabilia from years past illustrates the team’s long history.
Westhaver has been playing hockey for most of his life, and still does today. He played in Bellingham’s leagues for years, but admits it’s now getting tough to find people his own age to play with. Fielding a team doesn’t stop him from lacing up his skates, however, and he still regularly likes to attend ‘”stick and puck” sessions, where he can leisurely skate and pass the puck with friends.
For several years, Westhaver has traveled to Santa Rosa, Calif., to play in the Snoopy’s Senior World Hockey Tournament, put on until recently by “Peanuts” cartoon creator Charles M. Schulz, who died in 2000.
Finding work as the new guy in Bellingham during the 1960s wasn’t easy for Westhaver. He did have one thing going for him, though: his previous ties with Sears, which would get him another job at the company. That job eventually led to work in several other floor-covering shops in the area.
Westhaver said he remembers the vibrancy of downtown Bellingham in the 1960s. He also illustrates how much the town has grown by noting the only business on the Guide Meridian was the Moon Light Drive-In Theatre.
“You hardly see logging trucks going through town anymore,” he said.
In the late 1970s, Westhaver said the flooring industry began moving toward individual contractors. That’s when he decided to adapt and go into business with his son Rick as R & R Floors, a venture that lasted 16 years.
Westhaver acquired his current business, Pacific Trim and Floor Supply, in 1985. “This business was about to fall apart when I bought it,” said Westhaver.
The previous owner did not have enough money to finance the business and decided to get out. As a result, he said, the business, then located in Haskell Business Park, came at a good price. Not long after buying the business, he moved to his current location at 2208 Queen St., because he said customers couldn’t find him.
Westhaver said in the early days, it was hard to keep going. When construction began on Bellis Fair mall, Westhaver said he successfully recruited those doing the construction to use him as their supplier. “That gave us a kick in the butt,” said Westhaver.
The added customers gave his business a lift and improved his credit, something Westhaver said was hard to get when he was starting, because the former owner had financially destroyed the business. “Eventually, one after another, they (creditors) began to give us some leeway. But we had to beg for it,” he said.
Today, his business filled to the rafters with flooring tools, supplies and adhesives, credit remains a priority. “I’ve lost a few dollars along the way by trusting people. You can’t trust everybody,” said Westhaver. One of the most important lessons learned over the years has been establishing good credit, he said. “It’s pretty easy to run up a bill, and with a small business you need to keep money circulating or you’ll be out of business in a hurry,” he said.
Also important is listening and reacting to customer’s needs, said Westhaver. His customers, mostly small contractors, floor-covering stores, and some do-it-yourself homeowners, are why he loves coming to work, said his daughter Gay-Lynn Sears, who has worked with her father for 18 years. ”He’ll talk with anybody about anything,” she said.
Sears, who works in many areas of the business, said she has learned a lot about customer service and floor installation by listening and observing her father. “He’s been in the floor-covering trade longer than I’ve been alive. He knows everything about the industry, and if he can’t figure something out, he knows who to call,” said Sears.
In addition to Sears, Westhaver also works with his son Paul, 44, and daughter Holly, 46.
Westhaver, who has five children, five grandchildren and four great grandchildren living in the area, said he enjoys working with his family.
“I’m easy to work with, I’m laid back — maybe too laid back sometimes,” Westhaver jokes.
Sears said of working with her father, “he’s a bit cantankerous at times, but overall I guess not bad as a boss.”
Despite the occasional family friction, Sears said the office atmosphere is “happy-go-lucky” most of the time.
His daughters like to poke fun at his age from time to time, to lighten the mood, but Westhaver takes it all in stride.
“He holds his age well,” said Sears. She says he enjoys talking with old-timers, who are unknowingly much younger than him, and make them feel young again, she said.
“The key to longevity
is not to do anything in excess,” said Westhaver.
Westhaver said he often gets asked why he hasn’t retired. His usual reply is: “This is my retirement, and I enjoy it.”