Downtown Vancouver's oldest business is closing after 132 years.

The store has weathered lots of history. It started as a small tin-smithing shop, became a hardware store, was a department store and then an appliance retailer before its final incarnation as Sparks Home Furnishings.

The business just couldn't withstand the economic changes now underway, said Tom Craig, who confirmed this week he's preparing for a going-out-of-business sale. Craig is selling the building to a downtown developer for $1.7 million in a deal expected to close in June. The buyer plans to transform the 40,000-square-foot building into a multitenant office and retail space that includes a coffee shop and a new headquarters for an engineering firm.

Craig, 60, plans to retire and walk away from business challenges such as fierce competition from big-box stores, his less-than-vibrant downtown location and a lack of desire from the family's next generation to take over.

On top of those forces, the state's retail sales tax finally did him in, Craig said.

The mere thought of the 8.4 percent sales tax seemed to drive customers to Oregon, Craig said, even though Sparks has offered for years to pay it. He suspects shoppers trying to avoid sales taxes played a similar role in Nordstrom's recently announced decision to close its Vancouver store.

"Every year, the state or county or city wants more (sales tax), which is fine, but there's an invisible line" between stores that will prosper and stores that won't, Craig said. "It's not going to be furniture stores, appliance stores or jewelry stores. Anything high-end is not going to survive."

Craig said the sales tax rate was 5.2 percent when he joined the business in 1977.

Craig is a descendant of Marshall Rowe Sparks, who started the business in 1882, seven years before Washington became a state.

If his ancestors could weigh in, Craig doesn't think they would mind that he's closing the store.

"They'd be happy that we kept it going for so long," he said. "Things had to change."

Cami Joner: 360-745-4532; cami.joner@columbian.com.

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