Road Trip! Williams & Locke

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I recently pointed my car south on Interstate 5 on my way to visit friends. As I always do when traveling that direction, I stopped at Granzella’s Deli in Williams for a bathroom and snack break.

As an aside, Granzella’s may be the first place I’ve ever seen actually improved by a fire. After it went up in flames two years ago, it rose like a retail Phoenix to become better than ever. New bathrooms, new restaurant, new bar, new everything. It even has gelato (OK — over-priced), but it also maintained its olive tasting, and added a cool gift shop across the street, a store filled to the rafters with stuff that will probably send most men screaming for the comfort of Granzella’s polar bear in the bar.

One thing I’ve missed about my Williams’ drive-throughs the last few years were my side trips to Garrison’s Army Navy Surplus at 609 E Street – commonly called just Garrison’s.

It was the kind of collectibles store so crammed and jammed and teetering with old funky objects that you’d wish for a tetanus shot before you set foot inside, just in case you bumped into some rusty antiquity, or a precariously balanced overhead object came crashing down from a high shelf or a the water-filled sagging tarp suddenly let go.

But I loved Garrison’s for the hunt and the thrill of the treasures it held inside. Every shopping trip was an adventure. I still remember the excitement of using a flashlight (provided by the store) to navigate through the rabbit warren of Garrison’s dark tunnels on my quest for stacks of Tepco dishes along the back wall. I loved that it was just about as quirky a place as I’ve ever seen, absolutely stacked and stuffed with every kind of unexpected item, from the most bizarre military supplies, and boxes of vintage post cards and old toys and bark cloth and rare books, and bygone appliances and  my favorite sturdyware and restaurant dishes. 

After old man Garrison (trivia: he used to work at McCall’s dairy in Redding before WWII) died a few years back, a couple of his adult daughters stepped in and tried to run the place. Sorting through the stuff must have been a nightmare. Garrison’s looked as if someone lifted the roof off the building and poured a jumble of about 11 antique stores, junk stores, military surplus and second-hand stores into the building, shook it up and then opened the door for customers.

Before long Garrison’s was closed, though I never learned exactly what happened. I do know that fire marshals didn’t look upon Garrison’s too kindly.

So imagine my surprise a few days ago when I noticed signs of life in front of the former Garrison’s.

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Sure enough. Lights were on, a sign said open and the windows held intriguing displays. I ventured inside and found a very cool store, the kind of store where I could easily spend a lot of time and money. 

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Behold, it also has a new name: Garrison’s Vestiges and the King’s Ransom, a totally wonderful shopping experience that lack’s the former Garrison’s chaos. In fact, the new Garrison’s is neatly and artistically organized into categories: bar ware, linens, stationery, toys, Christmas decorations, pottery, etc.

I introduced myself to Pam Stadick, the creator of Garrison’s Vestiges and the King’s Ransom. Turns out Stadick is one of Garrison’s daughters. She said she moved from Portland to Williams earlier this year after being away for a few decades. Her Williams store has been open since summer.

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Stadick has an obvious flare for display, and she does a pleasing job of pairing like things together.

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As Stadick and I talked, I couldn’t help but smile when I heard the strains of a familiar Redding radio station: Q97 Country. Stadick said it’s the only one that comes in loud and clear (in English).

I promised Stadick I’d return, and that I’d share news of her new store with you. She said she plans to expand later, which will mean pushing beyond the walls of her cute little 500-foot retail space into the 2,000-square-foot still-filled rooms that still hold her father’s ancient surplus store. What a job that will be. That news alone was enough to set me back on the road again.

Locke

The next day I visited Locke for the first time. Locke is a town so tiny that it makes my little hometown of Igo look like a metropolis.

It’s said that Locke is the only remaining rural Chinese town in the United States, but today less than 100 people actually live in Locke, and of those, only about 10 are Chinese.

Locke’s narrow streets were lined with cars that belonged to curious folks like me who looked as dumbstruck as I felt to find such an unusual place practically in our own backyard.

Its rickety wood buildings – many with Chinese writing – were tucked down in the holler along the Sacramento Delta. One building was so crooked that one young couple with cameras stopped to place their hands against it in a mock pose to make it look as if they were holding up a falling structure.

I cannot believe how many hundreds of times I’ve sped down I-5 and came within miles of this historical gold mine, but I never stopped. Why? Because I didn’t know about it.

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 The buildings’ age and state of disrepair left the impression of an Asian ghost town, but looks are deceiving. This interesting hamlet featured a couple of functioning restaurants/bars (one Chinese), some shops, a Chinese herbalist, a book store, a museum and a Chinese Cultural Center.

Bikers (not hard-core, rather weekend riders – dentist- and accountant-types) rumbled through and stopped to stretch and refresh.

I spoke with an older Chinese gentleman who owned and operated a cluttered store – a place I could have spent hours more. He said that he didn’t know how much longer his little establishment could survive, that he couldn’t compete with big box stores deep holiday discounts.

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I did my part by buying two bags of gifts (can’t tell you what — might spoil some people’s holiday surprise).

Maybe the weekend’s fog contributed to the area’s sense of mystery, but I had to keep reminding myself I was still in California. The draw bridges, the islands, the bayou-feel of the region, the miles of gnarly orchards, and the biggest lighted Jesus Christ along that levee road that I’ve seen in my life all gave me the sense I’d left the country.

What a trip. I’ll be back.

Click here for directions to Locke.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. 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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15 Responses

  1. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    I'd heard of Locke but had no idea where it was, much less that there was anything to see there any more. This is great info – thanks!

  2. Avatar Benita Epstein says:

    Thanks for posting the pictures of Locke, Doni. I've been there, but not really "been there". I do remember the wooden sidewalks. When I was a UC Davis student my parents and a sister drove about 10 or more hours to see me. When they finally got there I was so anxious to show off Sacramento and nearby places (Mom, "Ach. I've been there."). So I convinced them it would be fun to drive to Locke (as I recall, a two hour drive). So we drove to Locke and parked. One millisecond later my parents said, "Okay, we've seen it. Let's go." without ever getting out of the car. I guess I should have thought of something else to do after their long drive. Then for decades later I would receive travel clippings from my mother with a note, "here's your little town".

  3. Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

    What a great article! I ventured into the new Garrison's store recently myself and from your descriptions I'm wishing I had seen the old store before it closed. There is a very similar store in Orland on one of the side streets I stumbled upon purely by chance and I've kicked myself a hundred times for not buying the tan wool army blanket with the red cross symbol for $15 I found there. They had a stack of them, long gone the next time I went in.

    Who knew there were such cool places virtually on our doorstep? I'd love to hear about more of them.

  4. Avatar Kate says:

    We were impressed with the new expanded Granzella's too. Loved Garrison's, although I feared losing my small children somewhere in or under one of those fabulous treasures! Thanks for the tip on the new Garrison's and we'll be stopping to explore.

    We haven't been to Locke in years. We appreciate the peaceful pleasures of small towns and hope with an improving economy they will be able to thrive.

  5. Avatar Doug Mudford says:

    For years I would leave Louis Cairo's after a good Italian lunch and avert my eyes as I drove past Garrison's. It just didn't seem like a good place to hang out. Boy was I wrong. I'm so glad I got a chance to roam the aisles before it became "prettified". Thanks for the memory jog, Doni.

  6. Avatar Susan Daugherty says:

    I loved the old Garrison's but rarely took the time to venture in. When it closed, I felt that I had really missed out on not taking the time more often. Since then, I've driven past without even noticing the new little store! Thanks for pointing it out. I will stop on my way down to Napa for New Year's Eve.

    I have to laugh at how often I run into Redding friends at Granzella's that I haven't seen in ages. We obviously all know where to find the best bathroom stop, lemon muffin and olive tastings on I5.

  7. Avatar Adam Mankoski says:

    Doni – Thanks for the memories of Locke. When we lived in Sacramento, it was just a short trip down the levee roads to Locke, Courtland, Freeport and Isleton. Many great memories of drives to the Pear Fair, Crawdad Festival, and for no reason at all except to enjoy the Delta. Next time you're there, eat in the Chinese restaurant there. Yum!

  8. Avatar Eric Woodstrom says:

    Doni – Nice article….Did you by chance venture into Al the Wop's (now also called Al's Place to be a little more PC) in Locke? If not- next time you should – It has similar charm, tradition and staying power as Jack's here in Redding – good meal at a fair price, lot's of local color and an honest drink, (or Poor Red's in El Dorado for that matter which is well worth the drive up Highway 50 towards Placerville). Also, Al the Wop's has an interesting long-term tradition tacked into it's ceiling…..You'll know what I mean if you went there….

  9. Avatar JL HAYNES says:

    Doni, I worked for and rented a house from Garrison in 1969, excentric would be an understatement for the man. He had a mind like a steel trap, he knew where everything in that building was "everything" and what it's price was. If one chose to dicker on price, he would be invited to leave the building. Oh and the daughters, hmmm memories, all I can say, it was "69"

  10. Avatar Grammy says:

    Doni, I recently took a group of seniors where I work on a visit to Locke and Granzellas….it was a great day. Thanks for reminding us of a great place to visit. Everyone should go check it out.

    Merry Christmas to you and everyone at A News Cafe!

  11. Avatar Darcie says:

    Thanks for the "vintage Doni." You have such amaing observational skills and then are able to write about it so we see it through your eyes. I was just hoping to see a picture of Jesus in lights.

  12. Avatar pmarshall says:

    Doni, we are really missing Granzella's since we sold our property in Sonoma County. We stopped at Granzella's always. The waitresses (some of them) all knew us. We were always in a hurry so never stopped at Garrison's or Locke. Thanks for the info. I think we will have to make a special trip just to stop at those places. We are, at the moment, very relieved to not have to go that I 5 route anymore (about 37 years worth). Also, we traveled that route before the freeway was built; it was called "blood alley"); imagine all that speed on a two lane road. It was a real adventure; of course, we were much younger and could take it a lot better. Granzella's was really missed by all of us Reddingites when it burned. Yes, ran into several of them when we stopped.

  13. Avatar Karen C says:

    We, also, love Granzella's and missed it after it burned. The new place is beautiful, roomy, and the same great service. It is where we buy our ravioli. Oh my, are they good. Their meat sauce is excellent, as well. I love to browse through their gourmet store and always find something interesting.

    I am so happy they are doing well, again. The retail boutique across the street is filled with so many goodies, one must have the time to poke around, and find just the right thing to take home.

    We visited the Delta towns a few years back, but were in an RV pulling a tow car….big mistake. Not many places to turn around, not many directional signs, we got lost so many times…it was a nightmare. I'd like to go back and visit all the funky places we saw, this time in a car!

  14. Avatar Ginny says:

    Enjoyed the article for myself, and sent a link to friends in the East who will never have the opportunity to visit these places. You make them come alive!

    Thank you. ;o)

    Merry Christmas!!!

  15. Avatar Ann Webber says:

    Thank you Doni. Reading this reminds me of the Bay Area Backroads show that we used to watch in San Francisco. It featured wonderful day trips to take from the big city. You have inspired me to take some extra time on my next jaunt south.