Granzella’s, Garrison’s and the Nut Tree ain’t what they used to be, but the Freeway Tree saved the day

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Late Tuesday afternoon, my car took the Williams exit out of habit, like a horse seeking the comfort of a familiar pasture. I was heading home from a few days in San Francisco.

I knew about the recent fire that destroyed Granzella’s. Supposedly, a pizza oven was the culprit. But I had to see what remained of Granzella’s for myself. What I saw shocked me: Nothing but dirt, surrounded by a chain-link fence.

The plot looked so weird without Granzella’s old wood building and its front porch with the picnic benches and the swinging entry doors marked “in” and “out” – directions road-weary customers sometimes obeyed and sometimes didn’t.

Like all construction sites, this one looked much too small for the former Granzella’s restaurant, deli and sports bar.

A vinyl sign on the fence thanked Granzella’s customers for their patience, and promised a spring 2008 opening.

I felt so sad that I thought I’d just get it over with and walk kitty corner across Williams’ main street to Garrison’s, one of my favorite funky junk stores, a delightful combination treasure trove and junk pile.

For me, the fun at Garrison’s was always in the hunt. But Garrison’s was not for the claustrophobic. It had towering shelves, some of which reached the ceiling and rooms so dark and congested that flashlights were provided, even in the middle of the day.

Tuesday, the locked door held a piece of taped, brown paper. It contained a message that looked as if it was scribbled in a hurry. Basically, it said the city of Williams refused to renew Garrison’s business license. It was signed by Mr. Garrison’s daughters.

Beside the note was a yellowed newspaper clipping of an obituary for William Earl Garrison. It said he died in Williams on Aug. 26, 2006, and he was born in Baxter, Tenn., on Aug. 23, 1920.

The obituary mentioned his military record, and his namesake store that he opened after he returned from World War II, and memorial donations to an Alzheimer’s fund, and the fact that he once worked in Redding at McColl’s Dairy. It showed a vintage photo of a dapper man with black hair, parted on the side, and a thin mustache. The man I remembered had wild white hair and a beard to match.

As I pulled away from the curb, and its view of Garrison’s, its innards stuffed with a grand array of curious merchandise, I felt pretty low. The news about Garrison’s was only the final straw. I’d been in a funk after my earlier stop at the old Nut Tree site.

Now it’s called the Nut Tree Village, where the only remotely familiar thing was the Nut Tree font.

Village, smillage. It was a sea of every imaginable retail chain. I drove through the parking lots, studded with speed bumps, and never parked or got out of my car.

Anyway, Nut Tree Village just depressed the hell out of me. I kept thinking of the Nut Tree of my youth. I thought of its restaurant, which, in my younger years, I held as the benchmark of fine dining. I loved its store, with the posters, dishes, bakery, books and housewares. I loved the little train outside, which my kids rode when they were small.

Then, the Nut Tree was just great place to stop. Now, it’s just a hyped-up place to shop. No personality. No charm. No history.

That’s why the note on Garrison’s window got to me. First the Nut Tree. Then Granzella’s. Then Garrison’s.

Everything changes, I know. But all at once?

My mood lifted in Red Bluff, where the wind blew like crazy.

I made a point of looking for something in particular, out of the same kind of habit that caused my car to take the Williams exit.

I kept my eye out for the Freeway Tree, which I’ve written about just about every year during the holidays. From Thanksgiving to January that lovable little tree is decked out in the most gaudy Christmas decorations.

This yule tide gift is brought to us by a Tehama County couple (the McClures, I believe). They decorate the tree in the memory of their friend, a woman who tried in vain to spare the tree when I-5 was being built in the ’60s. The tree died, but years later, after the woman died, the tree came back to life. Ever since, the tree’s adorned in her memory.

Tuesday, after my depressing 1-5 trip down Memory Lane, I was almost afraid to look toward the tree, lest I see people with chain saws hacking it up for fire wood or bulldozers burying the tree to make room for a new strip mall.

I looked anyway. And I laughed. And then I honked out “Shave and a haircut; two bits.”

A couple dressed in flannel shirts and jeans moved around the tree. I don’t think they heard me. They were too busy holding onto long streamers of red garland. The garland whipped and danced and waved and landed onto the little Freeway Tree where it joined other decorations.

It never looked more beautiful.

And I was never so glad to see it.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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