Power of Place Episode #40 | The Wizard of Earl - Ron Irwin & Earl Borgert

Join us in this episode (the first of a two-part series) for stories of the B & I Circus Store, founded by Earl Irwin in 1945 in Lakewood, WA. Our guest today is Earl Irwin’s son, Ron Irwin, who ran the store for decades following his father’s passing. Ron is joined by Earl Borgert, the founder’s grandson, family archivist and President of The I.V.A.N. Foundation.

What began as a military surplus outlet housed in an unassuming 500 SF cinderblock storeroom became a prototype for the postwar American shopping mall, eventually expanding to over 300,000 SF. Under Irwin’s exuberant and tireless leadership, the B & I drew multitudes by transforming the store into a destination for extraordinary adventures.

Recently discovered reel-to-reel recordings allow us to enjoy Earl Irwin’s own voice for the first time since his death in the 70’s. Woven into this audio tapestry are voices of Power of Place listeners—all of whom visited the B & I as children—recalling endless hours of reverie: Whirling on a carousel, collecting autographs from their best-loved sports and movie heroes; and discovering a revolving menagerie, including the store’s resident lowland gorilla, Ivan.

"The mall—with the leased departments under one roof (so they don’t have to drive to get in their car and drive to another location for clothing or another location for sporting goods)—hadn’t been invented yet. It hadn’t really been done anywhere before.” - Ron Irwin