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Goodbye, Morrison’s

It’s with a sad heart that I report that after nearly 40 years as a bargain-hunter’s paradise, Morrison’s Discount Store has closed its Redding doors.

Just like that.

No more Morrison’s party favors, bodice-buster paperbacks, 9-cent jumbo flour sacks and creepy-finger rubber pens.

No more car-battery-scrubbers, StarWars Thermoses, day-glo foil matchbooks and 89-cent FireKing white plates (I’ve got three dozen).

No more 69-cent fashion earrings, 44-cent hair accessories and mind-blowingly steep markdowns on boutique Zodax items.

No more glow-in-the dark stars, Fiesta Texas coffee cups and such specialty items as size-XXXX hospital gowns, extra-long hospital sheets, and black Santa statues.

Most of all, no more stops by Morrison’s to shop and talk with 73-year-old Bill Morrison, the store’s namesake, whom I’ve known since I was a kid.

Mr. Morrison (can’t call him Bill) is a complicated guy, in an Archie-Bunkerish way. He’s soft and sensitive on the inside; he’s blunt and gruff on the outside.

He frowns, scowls and complains about business – even when it’s not so bad. He’s honed sarcasm into a sharp-edged, endearing conversational style. He gives endless guff to the indispensible people who helped run Morrison’s, like his daughter Beverly, and their longtime friend, Joel.

Still . . .

He donates thousands of dollars of merchandise each year to the needy.

He gives discounts to regular customers and random shoppers alike, even when they protest.

He welcomes a group of developmentally disabled adults into his store for hours on end – people whose highlight of the week is their Thursday-afternoon Morrison’s excursion.

He’s been known to invite foster families and others he deemed worthy in for after-hours Christmas-shopping – for free.

He once donated a building to a church.

And the year he got a shipment of oil lamps that turned out to be dangerous (make that exploding oil lamps), he would not rest until the message had been broadcast far and wide – he called legislators, media, you name it – to warn people.

For many years I tried in vain to get Mr. Morrison to agree to let me write his profile, but he always refused.

It’s too bad, because he’s quite a character, with a rich history and some amazing stories. He was born in the Redding Hotel. His father built what’s now Jack’s Bar and Grill, a place Mr. Morrison said he managed in his younger years.

Monday he explained what led to his decision to tape a bright yellow “Closed” sign on Morrison’s.

“Number one, I don’t feel too good – you know I’ve fallen twice, punctured my leg, bruised my lungs, probably bruised my heart – that was sure stupid,” he said.

“Number two – Christmas Eve you know how much I took in? Ninety-six dollars! What?! Ninety-six dollars? I should have taken in at least $3,000! The fact is I haven’t made a dime since we opened here.”

When Bill Morrison says “here” he means his store’s latest location in the Cypress Square Shopping Center off Athens Avenue in Redding.

Morrison’s first “important” store was on Oregon Street, a tall old building with sloped-wooden floors, crammed literally in some places to the rafters with baskets, boxes and every kind of merchandise. That’s the Morrison’s in which I first shopped. It was a place unfit for fire marshalls or the claustrophobic. It was a place where the rich and poor shopped side by side.

Morrison opened that first store in 1969 after one of Redding’s biggest snowstorms – the one that collapsed roofs of places like WonderWorld (where OSH is now) and Thrifty’s Drug Store.

That storm gave Morrison his lucky break.

“I opened Christmas Eve 1969 by selling all this wet stuff from Thrifty’s that I’d dug out with a snow shovel,” Morrison said with a laugh.

“For a long time after that some customers would joke and ask where my wet merchandise was.”

Over the years Morrison packed up his wares and relocated this store all over Redding on his quest for the perfect spot: Court Street, Eureka Way, Lake Boulevard and finally, Cypress Square.

In Morrison’s early days he opened his store just a few days a month. The only way we knew which days were from hand-written signs on the doors with scribbled dates, which women (OK, mainly) would relay from friend to friend and relative to relative. On those special dates, shoppers lined up before opening time, and rushed for overflowing tables and bins as if they were filled with treasures, which sometimes they were. (I still have a vintage purple bowling ball to prove it.)

Speaking of which, it’s not as if Mr. Morrison has run out of stuff to sell. In fact, Morrison’s is full, and one 17,000-square-foot warehouse is also completely packed.

For now, he’s selling off truckloads of stuff to vendors, like two trucks that just left for Oregon, and some other inventory to a guy from Hayfork who paid cash.

“Cash!” Morrison said sarcastically. “Can you believe that!”

Morrison has threatened to quit before. But this time sounds serious. Besides, he said his health isn’t so hot, and between the rotten economy and the nearby bridge project (that he’s convinced hurt his business), he doesn’t know if he can make a go of it any longer.

Even so, he did say there’s a very, very remote possibility he’ll reopen again one day.

But don’t count on it.

He promised to let me know (so I could tell you) if he decided to hold a liquidation sale.

I asked if that means he’ll retire.

“I really hate that word,” he said.

I said it wouldn’t be Redding without a Morrison’s – that his store was an institution.

“Maybe I should be in an institution!” he said.

I said I’d miss his store – and him.

Mr. Morrison said he’d miss me, too.

I choose to believe he meant it.