My family and I make it down to the B & I shopping center. You won’t find name brand stores in this historical building (at least not anymore). This is yet another thing to do in Tacoma. But before we get into what there is to do in the B & I shopping center, let me share some history about this location.
B&I was originally a hardware store with no parking or sidewalk to speak of. E.L. Irwin and M.L. Bradshaw were business partners and kept the store stocked with durable hardware goods. The hardware store opened up its doors in 1946.
As the business grew in size they changed the business name to B&I Circus store. I am not sure how this came about but in 1948 they had a sidewalk sale (which was apparently something new at the time) and they purchased a carousel. The carousel made naming it a “circus store” official.
The carousel wasn’t enough. In 1953 the B&I store acquired an elephant. The two owners capture the elephant in India and had it shipped over. Not long after the elephant came to town the two owners came upon two chimps, Cathy and Murphy.
The store continued to grow and in the 1960’s they began having television stars as well as popular figures come to the B&I location. Popular individuals included Sheena, Joe Louis, the Cisco Kid, Pat McGee, Burt Ward (Robin from Batman) and many more. Big articles would be published in the newspaper which would bring people from all over to see the new star that was making an appearance.
An then in 1964 one owner of the B&I store did something that is just unheard of, they brought a baby silver back gorilla (Ivan) and a female to their home. Apparently the girl died shortly after arriving to the owner’s home. After approximately 5 years Ivan was too big for their home and was moved to the B&I store. The owners built a $60,000 habitat that was state of the art for its time. It had an indoor and outdoor play area as well as small pool. Ivan spent the first 30 years of his life there.
People began coming to B&I just to see Ivan the Gorilla. Families came to see him and the children loved it. Couples went on dates to see Ivan. Things started to change in 1992. Animal rights activists began to protest on behalf of Ivan. Because of the increasing pressure B&I sent Ivan to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Shortly after arriving at the Seattle Zoo, Ivan was transferred to a Zoo in Atlanta where he was adored.
In 1992 the B&I store was apparently facing bankruptcy. Not much information can be located as to what happened to the store after its hay day, but I can tell you what they have at the B&I today.
B&I is not a store where the small businesses can get started, much like the Freight house Square stores. Small businesses come and go but a few have stuck around long enough for me and my family to visit repeatedly. A few of the different types of stores you might find there are clothing, accessory stores, and car stereo equipment.
The two places in particular that my family and I go to is the Pet Store and the Arcade.
The pet store usually has a significant amount of what I believe are pure bread puppies. We usually see a few of them in the window and then more in the back. Baby bunnies are also something they have a plentiful amount of. They allow you to pet them which usually gets shoppers even more interested in purchasing one.
In addition you will find fish, snakes and spiders and sometimes even birds. The pet store has been one of the stores that has weathered the financial storms over the years.
One of the main draws to the B&I (at least for my family) is the Arcade. The have a variety of arcade games available. But be warned many of the games do not work as they should and you may lose a few tokens. With that being said, many of the games reward players with tickets that can be redeemed at the front counter.
The arcade has a ball pit where kids can play and an indoor merry-go-round which is probably the biggest reason families go to the arcade.
The B&I is a place to walk around and see a bit of this historic building that once housed a Gorilla and many memories for many people. If you are looking for something different to do I would give the B&I a try.
The B&I store is located at 8012 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood, Washington 98499.
Hours of operation for the B&I is:
Monday through Saturday: 10am-8pm
Sunday: 10am – 6pm