Happy 100th birthday to the Graeagle Store!
In mid-May of 1918, the foundation for the iconic store was poured, and a century later store patrons are still walking on the original wood floors.
“They slant a little and have become thin in places, but they are the same floors that store customers have walked on for the past 100 years,” said Steve Harding, co-owner of the Graeagle Store during an interview last week.
The Graeagle Store, which is located on Highway 89 next to the Mill Pond in Graeagle, offers locals and visitors access to a full service fresh meat counter, produce and dairy, dry goods and just about everything a grocery store would offer.
During the winter months, locals come and go chatting with the store’s owners and staff; in the summer, the aisles are jammed with tourists stocking up for their cabins, campsites and picnics.
The public is invited to come celebrate the historic occasion this Friday, May 18, with gifts for the kids, cookies, a birthday cake and helium-filler balloons.
“We will be celebrating all day long,” Harding said. “You don’t need to buy anything, just come in and say ‘hi’ to the employees.”
A look back
The following history was compiled by Donna Mills:
Arthur Davies acquired what would become the town of Graeagle from the Sierra Iron Company in 1916 as part of a huge timber sale that stretched from Blairsden to Calpine.
He constructed a sawmill and began moving company housing from one of his other nearby mill operations in Sardine Valley, 45 miles to the southeast. Davies’ Mill (as it was known at the time) grew quickly, adding a company store, a post office (which resided within the store itself until 1980) a dairy and various other buildings.
The town held a naming contest to select a better name than “Davies’ Mill.” The winning entry contracted “Grey Eagle Creek” to Graeagle.
Arthur sold the mill complex to the California Fruit Exchange of Sacramento in 1918. The company used the lumber facilities to manufacture “shook” (wooden slats for fruit boxes) for the fruit industry in the Sacramento valley.
Family homes began popping up along Graeagle’s main street in the 1920s. The community saw economic growth through the 1930s and 1940s, adding a hardware store, a butcher shop, a slaughterhouse and other commerce.
The Graeagle Store continued to supply the town’s bulk commodities through the 1950s. Like other buildings in town, it had a wood-burning stove in the early days. The pot-bellied stove was eventually replaced with a propane heater, which freed up more space for groceries. (You can still see the plate above the butcher counter where the stovepipe once was.)
In October 1956, as cardboard quickly replaced the need for wooden fruit boxes, the Graeagle Lumber Mill shut down, and the milling equipment was auctioned off. By 1957, Graeagle had become a virtual ghost town. Most families vacated company-owned homes, and sought jobs and lives elsewhere.
Harvey West, Sr., a large timber operator in Placer County, had a vision and purchased what was left of the California Fruit Exchange’s remaining holdings a year later. Harvey would begin developing a master plan for the community of Graeagle.
By the 1960s, the area was starting to see an influx of visitors as highways in the northwest improved. Harvey West, Jr. and his wife Shirley soon moved to Graeagle and established the Graeagle Land and Water Company to manage a slow-growth plan for the community.
Graeagle Land and Water began construction on an 18-hole, championship golf course over the next several years, and kept sales of Graeagle homesites to no more than 40 lots per year.
Steve Harding, Sr. was in the area on a golfing junket with his good friend George McClaskey in 1968 and fell in love with the area. Steve learned the store lease would become available, and purchased the lease for the business in 1970. There were only about 200 permanent residents in Graeagle at the time, which made for slow business. Steve Sr. worked seven days a week with one other employee during most of the year, and hired two youngsters to help in the summer months.
Steve Harding, Jr. was teaching high school in Chester, and later middle school in Oroville, at the time. He and his wife moved to Graeagle and joined his father at the Graeagle Store to help run the family business.
“I remember having a choice of only three cereals at the time: Cheerios, Wheaties or Corn Flakes,” says Steve, Jr. “Bread came up the Canyon and over from Reno once a week. The chips rack was six feet by six feet, and there were three distributors crammed in that space: Laura Scudders, Frito Lay and Granny Goose. Now we have 18 feet of chips!”
The store’s business continued to grow as the community flourished in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1980, Steve, Jr. asked Harvey, Jr. if the post office could be moved out of its home within the store to make room for more groceries. Harvey, Jr. relocated it to the present day “Buckaroo Chocolates” and then later to its current location adjacent the Graeagle fire hall.
Dale Lambert joined the Graeagle Store in 2000 and became a butcher. “I bought the butcher shop from Paul Trapp and became Steve’s partner. Paul taught me how to cut meat while I was still cutting logs for the Graeagle Timber Company. Those were some long days, but it was worth it. I still like working here and hope we can keep it pretty much like it is.”
For more information on the history of Graeagle, visit graeagleassociates.com/area-info/the-history-of-graeagle.
The public is invited to a daylong celebration this Friday, May 18. Harding said there will be treats for the kids including Styrofoam airplanes and helium-filled balloons, as well as cookies and cake for all ages. The store is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.