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Lisa Farr

Lisa Farr got her degree from Western Oregon University, and the manager in training recently completed a North American Retail Hardware Association-sponsored "mini-MBA" course at Butler University, in Indianapolis. Here, she is on the office balcony looking over the sales floor of the Coos Bay store.

COOS BAY — For now, Lisa Farr is a store manager in training at Farr's True Value. But one day, the fifth-generation Farr will take over the business and a legacy of serving the customers of Coos County since 1916. No pressure.

Fortunately, she says her family has her back.

"I definitely like working with my family," Lisa Farr said. "They're rooting for you."

Lisa Farr, who previously graduated from Western Oregon University in Monmouth, recently completed a six-month, North American Retail Hardware Association-sponsored "mini-MBA" course at Butler University, in Indianapolis, Ind., which she said focused on labor management, accounting, product placement and networking. Since finishing the course in January, she said she's continued to reach out to her fellow classmates, who come from a variety of hardware backgrounds, as she helps run the family business.

Farr's True Value, with locations in Coos Bay and Coquille, in 2016 is celebrating 100 years of business. A century ago, a man named Cecil Elwood came to Coquille and set up the business that would become Farr's as a transfer and warehousing company, managing freight between the Coquille River docks and Southern Pacific Railways.

Elwood later decided to get out of the business and sold to Chet Farr, grandfather to current co-owner Jay Farr, though he later returned to the business as a partner. Under Chet Farr, the business would expand to Marshfield — later to become Coos Bay — and the business would gradually change over the decades.

"I started out sweeping the floor and re-processing chicken scratch," Jay Farr said, recalling when the hardware business served livestock customers as well.

Like Lisa Farr, Jay Farr said he went away to school, getting a chemical engineering degree from Yale University and working for a handful of firms before returning back to the South Coast.

"I like the fact that this is a beautiful area," he said.

With its small population, Jay Farr said Coos County also presented the opportunity to "do almost anything."

Thanks to constant reinvesting, Farr's True Value has been able to stand the test of time, Jay Farr said.

"We had some very foresighted ancestors...We're standing on the shoulders of a lot of people," he said. "There aren't many businesses that reach the second generation, let alone the fifth."

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Jay and Lisa Farr said that despite the business' longevity, there are constant challenges to be overcome.

"We are the oldest union shop in town," Jay Farr said, meaning Farr's employees get insurance and benefits. "Our expenses are more than our competitors'."

But employees also stick around. Lisa Farr said some employees have been with the company for more than 25 years, a quarter of the time the company has existed.

It's Lisa Farr's job to navigate the schedules for the 28 employees of the Coos Bay and Coquille stores, but she said she was proud to say all but one employee is able to receive two days off in a row.

She said she enjoys the challenge of working with people, both customers and employees.

"Every day is different," she said.

Jay Farr — a third-generation Farr — co-owns the company with Jim Farr — fourth generation — and Chris Liga. 

"We call ourselves the Three Blind Mice," Jay Farr joked.

Unlike his fellow co-owners, Liga wasn't born into the business. Starting in 1999, Liga worked his way up from clerk to assistant store manager to co-owner.

"(It is absolutely fantastic) to be part of something with so much history," Liga said.

Jay Farr said Liga helps bring a "whole different perspective on everything."

As for Lisa Farr, she said she has been training for two years now in the hopes of helping the business navigate the next 100 years.

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Reporter Andrew Sheeler can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 234, or by email at andrew.sheeler@theworldlink.com. Follow him on Twitter: @andrewsheeler.

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