Store manager Anjelique Blake stands in front of the new point-of-sale system at the Weitchpec grocery store. The new system will catalog inventory in a better, more efficient way./Photo by Molli Myers, Two Rivers Tribune.A Store And So Much More
By MOLLI MYERS, Two Rivers Tribune
Pearson’s Grocery has overlooked the confluence of the Klamath and Trinity Rivers for almost 70 years, and had been owned and managed by three generations of the Pearson family during that time. Today, it stands above the meeting place of the Klamath and Trinity rivers as the Yurok Tribe’s newly renovated fuel mart.
Prior to occupying the current structure that was commissioned by Eric Pearson in 1951, the store was up the road in a building that would later house the Weitchpec Post Office. That building burned down in 1962.
Bill and Barbara Pearson inherited the store from Bill’s father, Eric in 1967, and enlarged and remodeled the building in 1971, in an effort to “modernize,” said Karen Pearson, Bill and Barbara’s daughter.
With the building doubled in size, the Pearson’s were set to grow the business.
Diversity came with the territory. As the area became more and more popular with sport fishing communities, Pearson’s store expanded their selections of rods, reels and bait, while continuing to cater to the local community with groceries and other household essentials.
Over a decade ago, then Weitchpec District Yurok Tribal Council representative, Sid Nix, began looking at the store as an opportunity for the Yurok Tribe to be in a position to better serve the upper reservation community.
But, the timing wasn’t right. Bill wasn’t ready to sell. The idea fizzled, but never completely disappeared. A few years ago, Bill decided he was ready to negotiate a sale. Sadly, Bill passed away before the sale was complete so his daughter Karen and wife Barbara brokered the deal with the Yurok Tribe’s Economic Development Corporation (YEDC). Pearson’s store changed hands for the first time in its history.
The Yurok Tribe Economic Development Corporation, or YEDC, is the arm of the Yurok Tribe that handles the business ventures of the Yurok Tribe. Those ventures include the Pey-Mey Fuel Mart, Klamath River Jet Boats, two RV parks on the lower Yurok reservation, and the newly acquired Bluff Creek Resort just upriver from Weitchpec. The fuel mart in Weitchpec will be the first YEDC development actually located on the upper portion of the reservation.
The final sale was for the building and the inventory, due to the fact that the Tribe already technically “owned” the land, although the Pearson family acquired lease rights decades ago. Although both parties declined to discuss monetary amounts exchanged, Terri Colton, Assistant Director of the YEDC, was able to say that, “YEDC paid on terms,” and that Barbara Pearson is holding a five year note, which was confirmed by the Pearson family.
As soon as the deal was done, YEDC made the announcement that they would be closing from May 1 to May 7 to renovate the space, and they did just that, with a grand re-opening on May 7 featuring hot dogs and cake. Locals came to check out the changes, and seemed to be pleased by the new look.
The store had formerly been divided in the center by the checkout stand, which was relocated to the front wall of the store, allowing for an open concept in the market space. Longtime employee Julia Simms said the first thing people remark on when they walk in now is, “How much more spacious it seems. I have to explain it’s the same size,” she said.
When YEDC spoke to the community about changes they wanted to see there were requests for a greater abundance of fresh vegetables and meats, better pricing, and more lunch options for the many tribal employees that work and meet at the Weitchpec Tribal Office. Amid the requests for new items were pleas for Pearson’s Market standbys to remain; roasted hot dogs, freshly popped popcorn and Slush Puppies from the thirty-year-old machine that always stood in the entrance.
For now, the Slush Puppies and hot dogs remain, and as Angela Chavez and her son Alex waited for theirs she explained, “Every time I come through this way from Hoopa I stop to get a Slush Puppy and a hot dog. Sometimes I drive here just for that!”
Colton said, “Tourism will help to keep the store viable and prosperous, but our first goal is to the local community.”
She went on to say that part of the vision designed to meet that goal is to continue to slowly remodel.
They hope to install a walk-in cooler with rows of fresh foods, “something like Costco,” she said. She says that the mart will be able to offer lower prices, by combining buying power with Pey-Mey in Klamath. She also said that she is setting up a grower’s meeting, where she hopes to offer local farms dedicated business in trade for set pricing.
Changes are happening daily, the deli is slowly getting up and running, where newly hired employee Ida Lucas is behind the counter making pizzas to sell by the slice, as well as some other hot foods like burritos and potato wedges. Eventually there is a hope to be selling grab and go lunch foods, including healthy salad and sandwich options. For now, Colton notes, there are no fryers and everything is baked.
The mart retained a few veteran staff, and has an open call out to the community to submit applications.
Simms is one of the few staff left from the Pearson’s era, and she says, “I really like working to organize the new store in a way that’s going to better serve the community.”
Like most of the staff, Simms is a resident of the Weitchpec area community, so the project is close to her heart.
John Roberts is a recent hire. He said he was excited to see the call for applicants, and that, “There aren’t a whole lot of jobs for everyone around here. It’s good seeing the store come together, people here need it.”
Some things are still being worked out. Old inventory is cleared to make way for new items, everything is being re-priced, employees are being trained on a new point-of-sale system and most notably, the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) machine is not yet functioning.
EBT is the system for families on the CalFresh support system to purchase food items. In the disadvantaged community of Weitchpec, this is a vitally important way people obtain food for their families.
Colton said the YEDC is working on the licensing, and the application has been submitted to the state Board of Equalization.
Another important detail still being ironed out is an official name. The community was asked for suggestions, but the final name hasn’t been through the formal council approval process yet. Whatever they end up deciding, it seems that in the minds of many, it will still be referred to as Pearson’s for years to come.
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