Time moves a little slower in Whitmore, the tiny hamlet inhabited by 800 or so souls where I live in the forested foothills 30 miles east of Redding. Like a lot of rural communities in California and across the United States, we’re trying to hang on to what little we have left, which, as far as the town proper is concerned. consists of a U.S. Post ffice, a country store, an antique/thrift shop, a community center, a public library and a grade school situated between two churches on pine-tree-lined Whitmore Road.
I’ve lived here four years now, and being a hermit by nature, I’m still somewhat of an interloper, especially compared to families who can trace their roots back generations, to when the area was first being settled in the 1860s. In a very real sense, things haven’t changed much in Whitmore since the turn of the century — the 20th century. So when something out of the ordinary happens, it is by definition extraordinary.
And indeed something extraordinary occurred in Whitmore this November past. Tania Greenwood and her husband Ryan Sauer purchased the Whitmore General Store from longtime owners Jeff and Judy Dresen.
“We’ve been here since November 6, and in that time, we’ve seen a big increase in the number of customers,” the effervescent Greenwood explained to me as we sat at one of the tables situated in a corner of the store where a small group of locals meet for coffee most weekday mornings.
“In Whitmore, it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s new. People are excited something new is happening.”
“This is a very big deal for Whitmore,” she continued, frequently chuckling with excitement. The 37-year-old mother of three school-age daughters is having a good time, despite the 80-hour work weeks.
“Some people are coming in just to see if they can get a cut of the new action, some people just want to snoop on the new owners!” she laughed.
While the store’s limited inventory of milk, eggs, cigarettes, beer and other basic bare necessities hasn’t changed overnight, part of the “new action” includes inviting local farmers and artists to sell their wares. Local Whitmore honey quickly flew off the shelves, and currently a corner of the store has been reserved for Christmas gifts, jewelry and other arts and crafts made by Greenwood and other local artists.
Ultimately, Greenwood and her husband hope to transform the establishment into a true general store, offering a selection of groceries, gifts, baby products, gardening supplies and hardware targeted to the needs of the local community and priced competitively enough to dissuade customers from driving down the hill to Redding.
“We want to get it to that at some point,” Greenwood said. “We’re the only thing up here—and some people (older residents) can’t make it down the hill.”
One immediate improvement Greenwood and her husband have made was changing the store’s milk provider from Sacramento to a local source. Since before I moved here, one of the store’s running problems was milk that frequently went sour before the due date. Turns out the problem was the milk was sometimes frozen during the long transport from Sacramento, then curdled when it thawed out in the cooler.
“We’re getting our milk locally now, so it’s more under our control,” she said.
Oh, and one other change Greenwood wanted to note. “The toilet paper here was awful!” So she switched brands.
One thing they won’t be changing is the traditional spreading of sawdust on the floors, one of the few remaining businesses to do so in Shasta County.
“The floor is one of my favorite things about the place,” said Greenwood, who worked up a three-page history of the Whitmore General Store before she and her husband sought the loan to buy it last April. It has existed almost continuously in various incarnations since the 1890s. The present structure was built in the 1950s from rough-sawn local timber by community members, after the previous store, located across the street, was forced to close when the landlord unexpectedly sold the land out from underneath it.
In the beginning, it was a thin but sturdy rectangular strip one-third the store’s current size. Gravel and mud kicked up by logging trucks splashed in through the front door, which then faced the street. Greenwood pointed to the ceiling and explained how locals grafted two houses on to the old store, tripling its footprint. Eventually, Lloyd and Pat Baker purchased the store in 1982. In 1996, they sold it to their daughter and son-in-law, Judy and Jeff Dresen.
Knowledge that the Dresens had put the store up for sale became apparent a year or so ago, when a prospective buyer pulled out at the last minute. After that, rumors swirled that an unknown “outsider” was purchasing the store, which would surely spell its demise. Harborers of such notions will be pleased to know that Greenwood and Sauer have spent most of their lives in Shasta County, including the past 12 years in Whitmore, where they formerly operated a thriving firewood business.
Ryan Sauer is a behemoth of a man who looks like he could shoulder a cord of wood. Surely he could up to a couple of years ago, when he snapped the tendons in both biceps. Faced with the fact that Sauer could no longer handle the physical aspects of the firewood business, and knowing themselves well enough that after years of self-employment, they weren’t exactly keen on working for a boss, they settled on buying the store.
It still feels somewhat odd going to the Whitmore General Store and not finding Jeff Dresen behind the counter, where’s he’s been for more than two decades. I ran into him at the Whitmore Christmas Fair early in December, and asked him if he missed it yet. He smiled and shrugged and said he’d been wanting to sell it and retire for quite some time.
Not that he’s not still around. The Dresens live just around the corner from the store, Judy has been helping Greenwood master the intricacies of calculating gasoline and cigarette taxes and Greenwood knows she can call Jeff anytime she gets overwhelmed by a sudden run of customers.
“He still comes in,” Greenwood said. “He walks around and straightens thing out. He tried to buy a bag of sugar the other day. I tried to give it to him, but he wouldn’t have it. He had to pay for it.”
No doubt Greenwood and Sauer face challenges ahead, but they’re not going it alone. Earlier this year, Greenwood became a member of the Whitmore Community Center board, where’s she’s helped promote annual events such as the Mountain Music Fair and the Christmas Fair, particularly on social media. On Jan. 31, the center is throwing, for the first time since I’ve been up here, a tri-tip provided, BYOB New Year’s bash, including a ball drop, beginning at 6 p.m., right across the street from the Whitmore General Store.
So yes, it’s true. Strange as it may seem, things are happening in Whitmore. Good things.
The Whitmore General Store is located at 30560 Whitmore Road. It is open seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call the store at 530-472-3216 for more information.