Honey closes after 42 years
After 42 years in business, Wessels Honey LLC of Greencreek closed its doors for the last time on Thursday, August 29.
The company started in 1971 when Elmer and Irene Wessels purchased 10 beehives and it soon grew into a company owning 600 beehives and producing 30,000 to 40,000 lbs. of honey yearly. The honey was sold in stores and supermarkets in the Spokane area, stores in northern Idaho and also locally. There were very few stores anywhere in that region that did not have Wessels Honey on the shelf.
The company was family run with Elmer and Irene’s children, Maria, Joe and Tina, doing various jobs including building new hives, unloading jars, washing and labeling jars and lids, and helping with the extracting of honey from the comb. The extracting process was all mechanized and resulted in about 2,000 lbs. of honey being handled daily. Elmer’s father, Albert Wessels, did all the jarring until after his 87th birthday. Irene took over the jarring after Albert died in 1985. Maria and Joe helped in the field and with the extracting of honey in the honey house. Tina and Maria washed jars and labeled them. Elmer took care of the beehives and did the delivering to stores with help from Irene or Tina until Tina’s husband Chris Jackson took over the job in 2009.
Each of the 600 hives was moved three to four times a years to various places where flowers were seasonally blooming. The hives wintered on the Salmon and Clearwater Rivers, then were moved to the Prairie for the clover bloom and then along the rim of Lawyers Canyon for the yellow star thistle flower that bloomed there. The final move was back to the original yard on one of the rivers where they rode out the winter.
The company was lucky because nearly every year it met, or exceeded, its goal in honey production. One exception was 1991, which was a very dry year. Honey production was weak and in order to supply their buyers with honey the company had to buy 8 barrels of honey to keep their buyers stocked until the next crop came in. This purchase opened the door to the possibility of buying honey, processing it as they had their own, and selling it as Wessels Honey.
In 1992 the beehives were sold and the company began purchasing honey in 55 gallon barrels and selling it as Wessels Honey just as before. The honey came from Sheridan, Montana, which sits right up on top of the Rocky Mountains. Honey was delivered to the Wessels once a year via semi load. By the time it closed its doors the company had sold over 42,000 cases of honey, which contain 480,000 jars and well over 1,000,000 lbs. of honey.
As the company grew in the 70’s and greater amounts of honey were produced yearly, there was a need to find more stores to sell the product. One day Irene called the Rosauer Supermarket’s main office and asked to speak with the honey buyer. The next voice she heard was that of Mert Rosauer, owner of the Rosauer Supermarket chain, which at that time consisted of 12 supermarkets. Over the next two days they negotiated by phone and reached an agreement on price and delivery days. Mr. Rosauer made an original purchase, sight unseen, of eight cases of quarts for each Rosauer store with more honey to be delivered to the stores as needed.
A year later the growing company again had a huge excess of honey and the question of where they could sell it was their main concern. Elmer and Irene met with an Albertson management team in Spokane. The meeting went on for a half hour when the leader of the three person team picked up a jar of Wessels Honey, rolled it around in his hands while looking at it. Everyone was watching him when he suddenly said, “I like this product” and a deal was soon reached for the Wessels to supply all the Albertson stores in the Spokane and north Idaho region. The deal was very similar to the one reached with Rosauers and the future of Wessels Honey was set.
The relationship with Rosauers and Albertsons continued right up to the present day. Honey was delivered to those stores on a three or four week interval depending upon need.
Age and health problems caught up with Elmer and Irene over the past few years and they decided to sell of their inventory and their extracting and jarring equipment. The Wessels did not advertise their company for sale and are sure they could have easily sold it if they had. Both Elmer and Irene said, “It would have broken out hearts to have made a bad sale and watched the company possibly be mismanaged and disintegrate. We wanted to remember Wessels Honey as a healthy, viable and profitable company.” Thus they decided to sell of the inventory and the equipment individually instead of outright selling it. Thus, the final closing of its doors on August 29.
The Wessels said they would like to thank all of their customers who bought Wessels Honey over the years. “Without you we would not have had a business,” they said. The Wessels have an RV set up permanently in an RV park close to Lancer Lanes in Clarkston. They love to bowl and also have 11 grandchildren living in Lewiston whom they love to spoil. They sometimes spend a night or two a week in the Valley but they said Greencreek, where they both were born and grew up, is now and always will be, their home.
Elmer Wessels stands in front of the truck that is delivering beehives to Wessels Honey. They started with 10 beehives in 1971 and expanded to as many as 600 before changing tactics and instead buying the raw honey from elsewhere to process and sell.
A load of boxed up honey jars ready to go to market.
Beehives on the move to a different location.
A delivery of raw honey from Montana to be processed and sold by Wessels Honey.
Elmer Wessels with some of the beehives from the first 21 years of operation of Wessels Honey. The dark spots are some of the bees.
All photos on this page provided by Elmer and Irene Wessels.