Gateway: Business

Downtown shop owner pours wine, stories

For Bruce Gair, the Keeping Room is more than a wine store. In 33 years of multiple businesses, the downtown wine and gift shop is where he has the most fun.

“I enjoy playing the role that I’m playing,” he said. “I’m having a good time being a slightly eccentric older gentleman.”

Gair had a long career in the Navy before he turned to business. He worked as chief engineer for the Pacific Fleet, managed shipyards and now pours wine in the downtown waterfront.

As a 13-year-old, Gair read a book titled “Annapolis Today.” From then on, he aspired to be in the service.

He made it to Annapolis, Md., after a few tries. He started in the U.S. Coast Guard near the end of WWII. He was training to land on the shores of Japan but didn’t make it into the combat zone. His last day of boot camp turned out to be V-J Day.

After the war ended and he left the Coast Guard, Gair went to college on the GI Bill.

“In addition to being in the service, I wanted to be an engineer,” he said. “I wanted to build things.”

He studied civil engineering and switched to metallurgical engineering at Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon. After all, he was in the heart of the steel industry — Pittsburgh.

Although he was following a dream, Gair still felt the calling of a service academy.

“The old thoughts came back,” he said. “I really would like to go to West Point or Annapolis, I really would. So mom went to the sister of the local politician and said, ‘Could you please help us get an appointment to one of the service academies?’ ”

He got a second alternate appointment to West Point, the U.S. Army academy in New York. All he needed was the primary and first alternate to fail the exam and physical.

Gair didn’t pass the physical due to a few minor issues. There also was no opening, so he went back to Pittsburgh.

Even though he was 20, a little old for the academy, he didn’t give up. His mother went back to the local judge, who secured him a spot as a third alternate to the Naval Academy at Annapolis.

Gair wanted to see the school, but he wasn’t optimistic. This time, three people ahead of him had to get cut.

Then he was called forward for a swearing-in ceremony. He thought there had been a mistake until a lieutenant told him he was part of the incoming class.

“And I looked in the back of Memorial Hall, and there was my mom and my aunt sitting there,” he reminisced. “And they knew that this was going to be it.”

Gair’s family knew only a physical was left. He was in at Annapolis, where he later graduated with honors.

Then, after a few years in active service, he earned a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“So my standard line when I talk to people is, ‘As a matter of fact, I am a rocket scientist,’ ” Gair said.

His turn at Annapolis led to a long career in the Navy as an engineer. Gair keeps his portraits and pictures of his boats in a three-ring binder at the shop. On the wall is a cover of the Maritime Reporter magazine. A drydock designed by Gair is featured. It stands out among the candles, gifts and “eccentric” bottles of wine.

With all his degrees, Gair became an engineering specialist. In port, he ran industrial facilities. He dried out submarines in the shipyards.

After he retired from the service in 1976, he became the chief engineer for a chain of shipyards on the West Coast.

In his 50s, he was single. Years at sea had led to a divorce. That’s when he met his wife, Linda.

With almost 33 years under their belts now, Linda and Bruce Gair have started 23 businesses. His wife is currently running Ciao Amoré restaurant in Seattle.

The Gairs came to Gig Harbor from San Diego because they were looking to get away from a negative situation. But even though they moved to a quieter place, that doesn’t mean Gair has quieted down.

“We decided we wanted to find a small town to live in and to be part of, and to make a splash in a body of water,” he said. “And that’s how we got to Gig Harbor.”

Gair brought his wife to the area while he was working at Lockheed. But just being in the area and relaxing wasn’t enough. Gair wanted to get involved in the business community.

“We moved here, and neither one of us could stand the idea of not doing anything,” he said.

The couple found a space underneath Spiro’s restaurant on Harborview Drive. A candle and wine shop had been in town for years. The business goes back 55 years and three owners. Gair is the third and has been at the helm for 23 years.

He stocks wines that make him laugh, things that he finds humorous. He likes to gossip over pours. From the hulls of aircraft carriers to the Keeping Room, Gair is a fixture of the Maritime City.

He didn’t come here to retire; he’s here to keep doing business.

Gair spent time on the city planning commission and even ran for city council.

He’s pretty good at what he does. After all, he’s a rocket scientist.