March 5, 2014

Kyle Smith, Tacoma postcard and souvenir pioneer, dies at 96

  • Posted by Smith Western

Originally published in The Tacoma News Tribune.
Link to article here: Kyle Smith, Tacoma postcard and souvenir pioneer, dies at 96

Carrying a camera and a dream, Kyle Smith settled in Tacoma at the end of the Second World War.

He began selling postcards depicting the main streets, towns and attractions planted throughout Washington and Oregon.

His business, Smith-Western, prospered as it expanded into gifts and souvenirs, and it grew to include international clients and suppliers.

Kyle Smith died Monday, three weeks short of his 97th birthday.

A professional musician, Smith played piano and led the big-band Kyle Smith Orchestra at South Sound venues. He later opened a restaurant and jazz club, Pioneer Banque, at Seattle‘s Pioneer Square.

Along with Pat Boone, Ginny Sims and other boosters, Smith helped build the city of Ocean Shores as owner of the Ocean Shores Inn.

Into his 90th year he continued to service his Grays Harbor postcard route.

Smith served in the North African and Italian campaigns of World War II. As the war began, he met his wife, Betty, at a Fort Lewis U.S.O. gathering. Weeks later they married, and Smith returned to Tacoma permanently and in 1947 founded Smith-Western.

He began by driving through the back roads of Washington and Oregon in his Mercury station wagon, visiting drug stores and grocery stores and general stores offering black-and-white postcards that depicted attractions - including hotels, parks and hometown drug stores, grocery stores and general stores.

The business grew to include gifts and souvenirs, and Smith went on to become one of three founders of the Postcard Distributors Association of North America. His industry later honored his lifetime achievement.

In 1999, the Tacoma-Pierce Chamber recognized Smith with its George Francis Train award, honoring his commitment to world trade.

Smith was one of the first entrepreneurs to visit Japan after World War II, and he went on to develop business relationships in several Asian countries.

Along with his strengths in business and his devotion to his family, Smith also committed himself to community service. He was a charter member of the University Place Kiwanis Club, and later served as Kiwanis Lieutenant Governor.

He pioneered color-photo postcards in this region, and his were among the first scenic calendars in the marketplace. Today the company he founded can count a client list including U.S. National Parks, the Smithsonian and the Statue of Liberty as well as casinos in Las Vegas and Asia.

Washington residents will recognize the Space Needle snow globes Smith provided to the 1962 Century 21 World’s Fair, and some may even retain a set of souvenir razor-clam ramekins.

As an organizer of wartime U.S.O. tours and later as owner of the Ocean Shores Inn, Smith encountered stars including Humphrey Bogart, Marlene Dietrich, Danny Thomas and Ray Charles.

He is survived by his wife, Betty; son Skip and daughters Patt and Mollie; two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

The family will celebrate Smith’s life with a public gathering on March 28 at 2 p.m. at New Tacoma Cemetery in Lakewood.