Chubby & Tubby war-surplus shop holds Grand Opening in Seattle on November 22, 1947.

  • By Peter Blecha
  • Posted 8/25/2010
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9535

On Saturday, November 22, 1947, a war-surplus shop called Chubby & Tubby (3333 Rainier Avenue S) holds its Grand Opening in Seattle. The business -- which is initially based in a set of metal military Quonset huts on a corner lot (formerly site of a Signal gas station) in Seattle's Rainier Valley neighborhood -- had actually been open for about five weeks. But it seems that the two rotund owners -- Woodrow ("Woody") "Tubby" Auge (d. 1989) and Irvin "Chubby" Frese (d. 1997) -- still had a few organizational wrinkles to iron out before making things official: In fact for those first five start-up weeks the company was actually called "Tubby & Chubby."

Old-Fashioned and Comfortable

Once that little matter was settled, the partners were ready to celebrate and their Grand Opening advertising touted the availability of "BALLOONS FOR KIDDIES, 10 OTHER PRIZES, $500 IN MERCHANDISE." Some of the shop's earliest merchandise included -- according to their weekly ("War Surplus Specials") classified ads in The Seattle Daily Times, such bargains as:  

  • 2 complete beds                 $10.95
  • Army suntan pants, used       1.95
  • Army all-wool pants (used)  3.95
  • Aerosol bombs, 5-lb              2.95 
  • 2-man mt. tents                      8.95
  • Navy raincoat, 3/4 length      2.95
  • Navy CPO shirts                    5.50
  • Navy rain pants and parkas    4.95
  • Navy work shoes                   5.95
  • Used wool gloves, pr.              .49

Chubby & Tubby's business grew to the extent that about four years later they were able to expand into a three-store chain with new outlets up north near Green Lake (7906 Aurora Avenue N) and down south in White center (9556 16th SW) -- a shop that was moved to Renton in 2001.

Each of these stores was appreciated for their great prices and crazy array of goods. Chubby & Tubby became local fixtures that, many years later, The Seattle Times would honor in an editorial: "just about every grown man in every Chubby & Tubby neighborhood recalls buying sweat pants, a fishing pole, garden tools or a pack of nails at the store ... . Chubby & Tubby is one of those places so old-fashioned and comfortable it is like spending a half-hour with an old friend. You never quite know what you will find roaming the sometimes messy aisles" (The Seattle Times December 19, 2002). 

From Rock 'n' Roll to Cut-Rate Christmas Trees

To this writer's youthful recollections those cluttered aisles held discounted goods ranging from rock 'n' roll records to toys, camping gear to kitchen wares, and tools to basic apparel. (Converse Chuck Taylor shoes and Levi Strauss bluejeans were priced in a particularly attractive way). The original Rainier shop got the grunge rock seal-of-approval when the late leader of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain (1967-1994) reportedly shopped for his trademark flannel shirts there.  

But Chubby & Tubby was most widely renowned for their fabled cut-rate Christmas-tree tradition, one that saw Auge and Frese collecting small trees cut for clearing electrical line right-of-ways by the power company. That sourcing method allowed them to sell trees -- albeit ones that were often similar to the famously misshapen  and thinly branched ones Charlie Brown acquired in the Peanuts comic strip -- for as little as 97 cents in the 1940s -- and $6.95 a half-dozen decades later.

Alas, in 2003 the beloved stores finally shuttered their doors and the Chubby & Tubby empire came to a halt. The times had changed. Now there were upscale consumer tastes and market competition from big-box hardware and discount stores.


Sources:

Chubby and Tubby "War Surplus Specials," classified ad, The Seattle Daily Times, October 8, 1947, p.34; Chubby and Tubby "War Surplus Specials," classified ad, The Seattle Daily Times, October 6, 1947, p.28; Tubby and Chubby "Grand Opening," display ad, The Seattle Daily Times, November 21, 1947 p.45; Tubby and Chubby "Surplus," classified ad, The Seattle Daily Times, December 31, 1947, p.18; Jake Batsell and Sarah Anne Wright, "Variety Chain Chubby & Tubby Slipping into History?," The Seattle Times, December 14, 2002 (http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com); Tubby and Chubby, display ad, The Seattle Times, May 3, 1984, p.55; Christine Frey, "Chubby & Tubby Slims Down as Owners Look for Buyer," December 17, 2002 (http://www.seattlepi.com); "A cherished part of old Seattle," editorial, The Seattle Times, December 19, 2002 (http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com); Jake Batsell, "Legendary Chubby & Tubby plans to close this weekend," The Seattle Times, January 5, 2003 (http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com).


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