Gary Peck

Retired Air Force Maj. Gary Peck is the new owner of Walla Walla’s Sears Hometown Store.

Walla Walla’s Sears Hometown Store is under new ownership.

When new franchisee Gary Peck took the helm at the Main Street retailer about two months ago it marked the launch of a third career and a return to Eastern Washington for the Nebraska native.

The retired Air Force major, who spent time at Fairchild Air Force Base, had a post-military career as a math teacher, including in Clarkston.

After retiring from education, he returned to a home he owns in Nebraska, renovated it and was left afterward with a feeling he could not shake.

“I just really felt like I had something left to offer,” he said during a visit at the downtown Walla Walla store.

As he began to look for opportunities in business, he found the Sears Hometown Store franchise model.

The timing and location could not have been better. Walla Walla’s franchise had been turned back over to the company last spring from previous franchisee Scott Hester. With the location in the Pacific Northwest as familiar territory, Peck saw an opportunity to return to the region. He said he saw promise in Walla Walla.

“Coming here, I could see a strong message of supporting downtown,” he said.

In the process, the move also continues the seven-year presence of the retailer’s model.

Opened here November 2012 at 207 E. Main St., the store is independently owned and operated under license from Sears, Roebuck and Co. It carries a smaller range of products than a traditional Sears store. Its main offerings include home appliances, lawn and garden equipment, tools and mattresses. It does not carry apparel, electronics or housewares.

Peck said about 65% of the products come through the Sears distribution system with brands such as Kenmore, Craftsman and Diehard. But the operation also has access to products not seen in traditional Sears stores. Those include Whirlpool, Maytag, Frigidaire and Husqvarna.

About 65% of sales at the Walla Walla store is appliances. The next biggest category is lawn and garden, Peck said.

The 10,500-square-foot store is run with a crew of five employees Peck said were another part of why he picked the Walla Walla market for his latest venture.

“A critical factor was the team directly in place here,” he said. “They have a real dedication to customer service and working together.”

He said the ownership change has been well-received by customers who see the transition as positive for the store’s future in Walla Walla.

“Customers have been very appreciative of us staying in business,” Peck said. “I’m happy for the appreciation.”

A grand re-opening and introduction of the new ownership is in the works for Friday and Saturday.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 509-526-8321.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.