A mainstay of Rehoboth Avenue for the past 60 years will soon close its doors.
Once a rooming house and later a USO, the Thunderbird Shop has stood at 200 Rehoboth Ave. since 1954.
Owner John Wofle said, “The last three years have been difficult. I just decided to close it down. I had been subsidizing it.”
The shop will officially close Friday, March 1. At that point Wolfle, who has owned Thunderbird since 1997, will retire. Wolfle said he has a tenant in mind to take over the building, although details are still being worked out.
Wolfle said he is looking forward to retirement, where he will continue to work in fundraising for Meals on Wheels and to travel.
“It's just time,” he said of the decision to close the store. "Closing down is not simple and not quick. I'd rather do it when I feel good. It's always better to do it on your own terms."
Mabel Greene founded Thunderbird Shop, which has always focused on southwestern and Native American-styled jewelry, accessories and art.
“She had a son who was a missionary doctor in South America, and he would come up here in the summer and help her run the operation. He brought with him all kinds of rubber snake kind of things. Just goofy little fun things for children,” Wolfle said.
The building outdates the store, Wolfle said. It was built in the 1920s. Wolfle has old photos showing the building with a gas station in front.
“It was a rooming house originally,” he said. “It was a school for a brief period of time when Rehoboth Elementary wasn’t finished. It was the USO, so there are women talking about their first dance being in here. So the building has huge history.”
Wolfle said the building is largely the same as it was in the 1920s, with one of the only renovations being new front windows that Wolfle put in a few years ago.
Greene, who was always referred to as “Mrs. Greene” sold the shop after 17 years to Lou and Sheila Brilliant. The Brilliants owned the store for many years, before selling the business. Three years after that, Wolfle bought the business.
“This store has always had Southwest influence. Along with that, it’s carried a lot of eclectic things that fit into this genre of merchandise. Things have come and gone over the years. There used to be a lot of wicker sold at this store, years before I was involved,” he said.
"There’s no a day that goes by that you don’t get families that talk about coming in here 50 years ago as a kid. That’s not the pleasant side of this whole deal,” he said. “Quite honestly, the legacy of closing a 60 year old institution is not the happiest thought."
Still, Thunderbird will live on for a little while; Wolfle will sell the remaining merchandise via the shop’s website, www.thunderbirdshop.com. As the store closes, all merchandise in the store is 50 percent off.
For more information on Thunderbird Shop, call 302-227-1900.