Jim and Lynne Mackle built a business and a legacy in Gig Harbor
Some knew him as “Mr. Kelly,” though his surname was Mackle.
Others knew him as Jim the Chicken Coop Guy. Or Jim the Plumber.
Many people in Gig Harbor knew Jim Mackle, under one handle or another. The former owner of Kelly’s toy store and cafe in downtown Gig Harbor — a plumber by trade who developed a homemade chicken coop business later in life — died Dec. 9 at the age of 94.
It was a tragic 2023 for the Mackles. Jim’s wife, Lynne, died on July 31 at 85. Together, they built a business that created countless memories for a generation of Gig Harborites from 1985 through the late 1990s, when they sold it.
“Almost anybody who lived here a long time, their kids grew up in that store. It’s pretty neat,” said Nancy Waite, daughter of Jim and stepdaughter of Lynne. Waite said when she tells locals that her dad and stepmom ran Kelly’s, they often say: “ ‘We used to bring my kids in there and we’d have (food) and the kids would pick up a toy and ride the horses out front.’ It was really just this whole family thing.”
Moving to Gig Harbor
Jim and Lynne Mackle moved to Gig Harbor from Los Angeles in the early 1980s, seeking a slower pace. Lynne worked as a flight attendant, jetting all over the world. Jim was a union plumber who was constantly busy during a Southern California growth boom, helping install pipes and fixtures in landmarks like Cedars-Sinai Hospital and the Los Angeles Coliseum.
They arrived in Gig Harbor when the daughter they shared, Kelly, was a toddler. The youngster, now Kelly Draeger, was the namesake of the store and grew up in it.
“It was the only name they had agreed on for me,” Draeger said, “so they figured why not for a store, too?”
Kelly’s operated out of a few locations over the years, including the building that later became Green Cottage Pets and an address on Harborview Drive that the daughters can’t quite recall. Most people will remember Kelly’s in the location that was recently KettleFish restaurant on Pioneer Way.
Another Mackle daughter, Colleen Sugerman, helped organize a tribute to her father and stepmother in the window of the old Kelly’s/now-closed KettleFish in December.
“I’m finding so many people talking about it,” said Sugerman, Jim’s daughter and Lynne’s stepdaughter. “Especially when they were putting (the tribute) up on the window … ‘Is Kelly’s coming back?’ “
Unique people with a unique store
If people are talking about it, that’s because it was truly unique. Sugerman described a very-Gig-Harbor gathering place in the 1980s and ’90s.
Draeger said her mom started planning for the store while still working as a flight attendant. During layovers in China and Hong Kong, she would visit toy warehouses to start building inventory. By the time they opened the first iteration of Kelly’s, the Mackles were well-stocked with items people couldn’t find elsewhere.
Lynne’s status as a retired flight attendant came in handy later, too, allowing the couple to travel to toy conventions. But the Mackle business mini-empire wasn’t limited to just toys.
At some point after moving to the Pioneer Way address, Jim decided the store should sell ice cream, too. Later they expanded to a deli and small restaurant with about a dozen tables. Families would come in for an ice cream cone and maybe some fish and chips, but leave with a few toys for the kids, too.
The Mackles also operated a souvenir shop catering to tourists in another building near Kelly’s.
“They just had a really successful formula at a really amazing time in the history of Gig Harbor, when you could grow a business like that,” Sugerman said. “Allow your creativity and imagination to flourish.”
A couple that worked together
The daughters said the Mackles filled different niches to make the business work.
Lynne’s work ethic and dedication drove Kelly’s. She ordered the merchandise, did the hiring and generally made sure the trains ran on time.
“She worked pretty much morning to night,” Draeger said. “She tried to cook dinner each night, but there wasn’t a whole lot of extracurricular activities that I remember, anyway. It was mostly just store-home, store-home, repeat until store sold.”
Jim’s contributions came more on the creative side. He was known for dressing up in costumes to promote the store. At one of the locations, he placed a machine out front that made giant bubbles (the daughters think this might have annoyed some neighboring businesses). He was a fixture in the Maritime Gig Grande Parade, dressing up in outrageous costumes and driving a van adorned with the Kelly’s logo.
Jim possessed a “great sense of humor. He could be the fool,” Sugerman said. “He could go out there and dress up and be silly.
“All the parades, he was out there doing things and making people laugh and smile. He really brought out the best in people he knew. He made everybody feel like they were the special one. He had a gift.”
Pipe Dreams and chicken coops
After selling the store, Lynne lived fairly quietly in retirement. But that wasn’t for Jim, who needed to always be working on something.
He was a regular at the old Al’s of Olalla store, now Olalla Bay Market and Landing. He kept an immaculate lawn. (“His lawn looked like a park,” Waite said.) He visited the Gig Harbor Albertsons just about every morning to buy a doughnut for Lynne, greeting every employee along the way. A Coast Guard (and Army) veteran, he enjoyed spending time on his boat.
But he wasn’t done working, either.
For a time he operated Pipe Dreams, a plumbing business catering to senior citizens while he was himself a senior citizen. Mackle ran it out of the same van he used to use to promote Kelly’s.
Later, he designed and built chicken coops. His marketing plan? Put a coop on a trailer, drive it to the parking lot of a big box store, and wait for someone to walk up and ask him about chicken coops.
It worked. The daughters estimated he sold about 307 of the things from when he was 82 until he was 92. Customers would order chicken coops from as far away as the coast or Eastern Washington, and Jim would drive out to deliver them.
“He’d just go and park his truck (in a parking lot) for however long,” Draeger said. “Until he’d get phone calls (from the store) and they’d say, ‘You need to not park your truck in our parking lot if you’re not shopping.’ ”
He’d say OK, disappear for a couple days, then come back. He was so likable, store employees found a way to overlook it.
Waite said one local store — we won’t name it, just in case any of the employees involved still work there — habitually took down the flyers Jim put up promoting his chicken coop business. The store also sold chicken coops and apparently frowned on competition camping out in its parking lot.
Jim developed friendships with the employees. Before long, not only were they leaving the flyers up, they were directing shoppers looking for chicken coops to go talk to the guy in the red truck in their parking lot.
“Everybody loved dad,” Sugerman said. “He made everybody feel special. He was just a really good man and he loved people.”
Jim Mackle was born Sept. 5, 1929, and died Dec. 9, 2023. Lynne Mackle was born May 6, 1938, and died July 31, 2023. The daughters said no public services are planned at this time.