Cowboy Jimmy has been a fixture at his store, Baker City Carpet Express, and in the community, for 26 years.
Now, Baker City Carpet Express is closing its doors and Cowboy Jimmy Larkins is retiring, prompting him to look back on his career and all the jobs he’s done that lead him to set up shop on the corner of Third and Broadway.
Although he’s worked in the flooring business for 35 years, Larkins was “unsettled” before then, trying his hand in construction, car sales, working at Albertsons, as a park ranger and doing special effects for Paramount Pictures’ 1969 movie, “Paint your Wagon,” filmed during the summer of 1968 in Baker County.
Larkins, 70, said Paramount even offered him more work in Hollywood, but he and his wife didn’t want to build a career and raise a family in Los Angeles. He did, however, get to meet Clint Eastwood and other stars before the crews packed up the Baker shoot half a century ago.
“I was always looking for a challenge,” Larkins said.
He started in the flooring business with a friend in 1983 in Milton-Freewater before moving back to Baker.
“I found my forte in the flooring business and stuck with it,” he said. “This is the longest I’ve stayed with anything. It’s been a fun business — we made it fun.”
Ultimately, it was his customers who kept Larkins grounded.
“I’m gonna miss the people,” he said. “We just had a lot of fun with people coming in here. It’s been a good run.”
Larkins remembered occasions when he recognized customers and he jumped out from behind a display to scare them.
In his off time he said he plans to take his wife of 53 years, Leisa, fishing and camping.
“Hunting season’s coming up,” he said. “My wife’s been asking to go fishing.”
He also hopes to continue one of his passions of spreading his faith after growing up a Jehovah’s Witness.
He also said it’s been a dream of his, since his school days, to write a novel.
Larkins also took his entertainment talents to TV when he created commercials for his business that were often in black and white and featured clips of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. He also made radio commercials for the carpet store.
He reflected on the ways Baker has changed since he first moved here in 1966 from Richland. The increase in traffic from Richland, population 175, and Baker City, with almost 10,000 residents, was significant, he said.
Larkins also noted higher traffic volumes on Broadway Street in front of his store.
“I’m happy I could be a part of Baker City’s growth and supply them with services,” he said.
Larkins noted, however, that the construction of Interstate 84, which supplanted Highway 30 as the main route through the county, led to major changes in businesses. Broadway between 10th and Main streets is part of Highway 30.
He spoke of the car dealerships that used to line Broadway and other locally owned businesses he’s watched open and close their doors from the windows of his shop, including some competitors.
“I’ve seen a lot of carpet stores come and go,” he said.
It was the way he treated his customers that he believes kept him in business despite the economic challenges.
“We look at them as a friend, not a customer,” he said. “It was just another friend coming through that door.”
See more in the July 27, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.