Bob Gaddie, whose waterbed store helped establish 9th and 9th counterculture, dies at 79

He also did liquid light shows for acts including Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin and more.

(Gaddie family) Bob Gaddie is pictured in front of his store, Stone Balloon Waterbeds, in Salt Lake City's 9th & 9th neighborhood in this undated photo. Gaddie died Dec. 6, at age 79, his family said.

Robert Gaddie, whose waterbed store was one of the early businesses that established the 9th and 9th neighborhood and contributed to the area’s underground culture, has died.

He died Dec. 6 after complications from pancreatic cancer, according to his family’s online obituary. He was 79.

Gaddie, who was born in Salt Lake City in 1944 and was better known as Bob, is remembered for his sense of humor, work ethic, determination and ability to have fun, his obituary states. His wife, Laura Gaddie, told The Salt Lake Tribune that she was attracted to him because “he was always happy. ... He never said anything negative about anyone, or a situation.”

He attended East High School and the University of Utah, his obituary states.

As a college student in the late 1960s, when the counterculture movement was taking off, he started a liquid light show business with a couple of friends called “Five Fingers on My Hand.” Using oils, projectors and color wheels, the group would create psychedelic backgrounds at music venues for such acts as Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater Revival, his obituary states.

(Gaddie family) Bob Gaddie poses for a portrait in this undated photo.

On the weekends, Gaddie was also a volunteer ski patrolman at Brighton. He spent 11 years on the ski patrol, his obituary states, eventually becoming the assistant ski patrol director and winning the 1964 Ski Patrol Award in the Intermountain Division.

But what Gaddie was probably best known for was waterbeds. He experienced a waterbed for the first time in a downtown hotel, where a company had set one up in an effort to get people to buy them wholesale and sell them in Utah, according to a transcript of an interview between Gaddie and his daughter, Nicole Gaddie.

“We walked in and saw a big, king size waterbed on the floor,” a quote from Bob Gaddie in his obituary states. “We laid down on it, and it was just a trip. I said, ‘Gosh, I think these things could sell.’”

Stone Balloon Waterbeds

In 1970, Gaddie set up a small waterbed store in a former barbershop in Salt Lake City’s 9th and 9th neighborhood, which at the time was “a shabby section of town,” Laura Gaddie said.

Bob Gaddie gave his new landlord $150 — two months of rent — in advance, the transcript states.

Gaddie told his daughter that he sold out the first order of about 20 waterbeds within two days, so he bought 30 more. They were all sold before they even arrived, the transcript states.

At first, Gaddie called his store at 920 E. 900 South Neptune’s Pillow, but then he changed it to Stone Balloon Waterbeds. His bright sign was based on the Japanese artist Hokusai’s “The Great Wave,” with the painted letters of Stone Balloon Waterbeds “floating” on the water. Centered City Yoga stands in the store’s place now.

Gaddie would buy waterbed “bladders” for $12 each, and would sell them for $25, he told his daughter. According to the transcript, he would fill them with water and just lay them on the floor, and people would stream in to jump on them.

(Gaddie family) Bob Gaddie is pictured inside his store, Stone Balloon Waterbeds, in this undated photo.

With its tapestries, incense and laidback atmosphere, Stone Balloon Waterbeds became a fixture at 9th and 9th, especially among hippies, along with such businesses as the iconic bookstore and head shop Cosmic Aeroplane; Mother’s Earth Things, which sold handmade clothing; the organic food store Nature’s Way; and Skin Company Productions, which sold leather clothing and shoes.

“The waterbed industry back then was pretty wild,” Laura Gaddie said. “Very unconventional. It wasn’t the standard corporate business atmosphere. The clientele, the owners — all young, all out for adventure.”

Bob Gaddie told his daughter that trading for goods was a common practice back then, and he traded numerous items and services for waterbeds, including the setting of his broken arm, an Afghan hound, a 55-gallon fish tank, a pair of eels, an enormous painting of a mushroom, a hot tub, and a Bengal tiger skin.

Gaddie, who would sell waterbed packages with a hand-built frame for about $75 each, had the most successful waterbed store in town, Laura Gaddie said. Bigger stores would pop up, but customers preferred to go to Stone Balloon, she said, which advertised by word of mouth. “Those customers, they’d come by just to shoot the breeze with him,” she said.

In 1972, Gaddie had been working on a motorcycle in the back of the shop, and while he was out of the store, a slow leak in one of the tires caused the bike to tip over, and the gasoline went under the water heater, sparking a fire, the transcript with his daughter states.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze quickly, but the smoke blackened the whole store, including the windows, the walls and all of Gaddie’s inventory, according to the transcript.

Gaddie remodeled and ending up staying at that location for 16 more years, according to Nicole Gaddie. In 1988, he had to move a couple of doors down, to where Salt & Honey Market is now, because his landlord terminated his tenancy, she said.

Waterbeds ‘ended up being his legacy’

(Gaddie family) The iconic Stone Balloon Waterbeds sign goes up on the storefront in Salt Lake City's 9th & 9th neighborhood.

Nicole Gaddie said that while other businesses that were part of the “culture of the time” ended up moving or closing, Stone Balloon Waterbeds stood apart because it stayed open until the late ’90s. Bob Gaddie closed his store in 1998, after waterbeds fell out of style.

It was an “accident” how 9th and 9th ended up becoming a gathering place for members of the counterculture movement, Nicole Gaddie said. Her dad started his business there because the rent was cheap, she said, and then “he just lived his life based on his own beliefs. And naturally, it just happened that other businesses moved in and everyone kind of believed in the same thing.”

Laura and Nicole Gaddie said Bob Gaddie had a hard time going back to 9th and 9th after it was developed and commercialized. “They had this street fair or something,” Laura Gaddie recalled, and he said, “‘You know, that’s OK. But it’s not the same place.’ It didn’t have the vibe or the feel.”

But the memories of Stone Balloon Waterbeds endured.

Years after the store closed, when Nicole Gaddie was young, she said she felt like everywhere she went, “people knew my dad because they had bought a bed from him, or their mom had bought a bed, or someone had bought a bed. That continued my whole childhood, running into people.”

“So it was pretty crazy,” she continued, “How the waterbed business, which he had no plan to get into, kind of ended up being his legacy.”

A private memorial service is planned.