Owning a successful family business for close to six decades in northeast Oregon takes more than determination; it takes dedication, tenacity, loyalty and a willingness to diversify when the time is right. These are all traits the Braseth family brought with them to the Grande Ronde Valley in May of 1956.
Craig Braseth was 4-years-old when his dad, “Connie” and his mom, Gerry, along with his brother Cory, and his two sisters Cindy and Claudia moved to La Grande. His uncle, Carl Kellenburger, and his family also moved from Portland to La Grande.
What prompted such a move?….a chance meeting in Death Valley, California with some La Grandites that were also vacationing there. Carl Helm was one of those La Grandites and he told the Braseths of a business opportunity in the Grande Ronde Valley. Epling Distributing & La Grande Transfer and Storage were planning to sell their business. As luck would have it, it was a perfect fit for the Braseth family. They made the purchase and moved to town.
“We made trips back and forth to Portland, so we watched the freeway and the John Day Dam being built,” said Craig Braseth. What a fascinating construction project to witness as a small boy.
In 1961, the company diversified and changed the name to Connie’s Moving, Distributing and Storage.
Moving and storage have been a constant part of the business for the last 58 years, but with the name change in ’61 came the distributing portion of the business. B & K, which stood for Kellenburger and Braseth.
“I can remember, when I was little, going on the beer truck every Tuesday,” said Craig. “Dorothy at the Brunswick in Elgin would feed me breakfast and Bessy at the Minam Store would fix me dinner.”
Craig was just a young boy when he rode along with his dad all over Union and Wallowa counties while his dad delivered beer, wine and soda. Craig probably didn’t even realizing how much he was learning about the distribution business until one day when he was a young teenager and his dad had an appendicitis attack. Craig had to ride along with a hired driver and tell him which stores and taverns were on the route. The driver unloaded the beverages, while Craig, just 14 years-old headed into each tavern to take the order for the weeks deliveries.
The warehouse, located in downtown La Grande, has been an incubator to many ideas, including a bottling facility. Along a back wall of the warehouse was where the soft drink machine used to be located. Yes, it was one of those ‘let’s see how this business will do’ ideas. Well, it worked. They bottled 7-Up, Nesbitt, Dad’s Root Beer, and Crush. Of course during some of the cold winters in northeast Oregon the bottles would freeze in the warehouse, or in the trucks and eventually would blow their tops.
“We had to put coal in coffee cans and light it with lighter fluid and keep it in the trucks to keep the bottles from freezing,” said Craig.
Eventually B & K was sold to George Bruce of Eastern Oregon Bottling Company, another family owned northeast Oregon business.
The word entrepreneur just might have been created with the Braseths in mind. Over the years they have had a meat cutting business, they have sold coal, they have manufactured and sold ice, they have rented out frozen food lockers, and have owned storage units, business complexes and commercial property.
In 1985 the Braseth family purchased Smith Brothers Moving Services, Inc. in Baker, which had been in business since 1945.
Craig and his brother Cory worked side by side for many years. Cory managed the Jefferson Avenue Rentals while Craig managed the moving and storage portion of the business. Bob Parker operated the distributing.
In the ‘do whatever it takes’ to make a living category, Cory and Craig also worked alongside the railroad whenever there was a derailment. They would go in and salvage whatever might have gotten spilled, such as coal, grain or lumber.
They are also a warehousing facilty for RV manufacturers in both La Grande and Pendleton, and store lumber until the manufacturers are ready for it.
In 1999 the two brothers decided to concentrate on the portions of the company they were already managing and split the business. Cory took full ownership of Connie’s Distributing and Eastern Oregon Rental. He sold Connie’s Distributing to P & E in Baker, and still owns and operates Eastern Oregon Rental which has a store in La Grande as well as Baker City. Criag and his wife Kay kept the Smith Brothers Moving Services and changed the name to Mountain West Moving and Storage/A-Secured Properties.
Just like his dad, Connie, Craig has instilled a strong work ethic in his boys, Kyler and Kaiger. They both became part of the business at a young age. Kyler, a well-known bull rider in NE Oregon is now a facilities manager at Acute Care Center in La Grande and Kaiger is the operations manager at Mountain West Moving and Storage.
Today Mountain West Moving and Storage is still going strong. The wealth of knowledge they have obtained over the years has brought them to where they are today, and as we all know, today’s world is a bit different then it was in 1956 when the Braseths first came to town.
In today’s world we all find our way to grandma’s house with the help of our GPS, friends are more likely to visit online than over a cup of coffee, and in 2013 it is estimated that there were 191.1 million US citizens that bought at least one product online.
With a knack for seizing opportunity the Braseth’s are once again at the cutting edge of business development. Craig and Kaiger have spent a good portion of the past six years making sure their customers get the products they ordered online delivered safely to their home or place of business. Businesses, such as, Home Depot, JC Pennys, Pier One, Pottery Barn and Temporpedic all rely on Mountain West Moving and Storage once an order has been placed. Once products arrive at the Mountain West Moving and Storage warehouse, they are inspected, rewrapped, delivered to the customer and set up in their home; customer service at its finest.
Some of the more unusual items they have handled include bronze statues from world renowned artist David Manuel, as well as a million dollar CAT Scan machine, and General George Custer’s trunk.
“Diversity helped us out during the recession,” said Kaiger. “We offer our employees a competitive wage and train them to be true professionals. Three of our employees have been with us for more than ten years.”
The future continues to look bright for Mountain West Moving and Storage as they continue to support the community they have called home for 58 years.