An Appreciation of the Local Grocery

Every town should have one.

In Los Angeles, a city of neighborhoods, we lived on Mar Vista's Beethoven Street. The Beethoven Market was the place to go. Whenever our then 5-year-old son wanted candy, chips or simply got bored, we would stroll down the hill. It was the place to go for coffee, smokes if you smoked, milk, half-and-half and everything else you would need in a pinch.

A terrifying moment came when I was teaching Sam to ride a bike. Lesson learned: never teach a kid to ride a bike going downhill. At breakneck speed I tackled him and the bike onto the grass before heading into traffic on Las Palmas. But we went to that grocery every day and never came away empty-handed.

Thus I can understand the poignancy of the closing of the Gearhart Grocery. Gearhart residents received the news their beloved market would be giving way to another barrel-and-oak establishment, a brew pub and smoked-meat deli, a sudsy version of the venerable Oregon jerky shop.

Although we've been here a little less than a year, we go to the Gearhart Grocery every day. I love getting Buoy Beer Czech Pilsner in the big bottles and the fact that they have Lange pinot noir. Along with turkey sandwiches, egg salad and more, all on your choice of breads. My favorite is "Dave's Killer." Their desserts never disappoint, with a small but delicious selection of pies and cakes.

The grocery store, owned by Molly and Terry Lowenberg of Sum Properties, has been for sale for over two years, struggling unsuccessfully to compete with Safeway, Costco and Fred Meyer.
If their plans move forward, the grocery would close and the interior remodeled. Meats will be smoked and beers brewed on-site. Families will be served at the nine tables, separated from a brewing area visible through a glassed area.

"It's really more deli than beer," engineer Mark Mead of Mead Engineering Resources, representing the owners, told Gearhart planning commissioners at a March meeting.

The owners have "been trying to figure out what to put in place of the store, and this is what they came up with," Mead said.

Mead said the owner felt the brew pub was needed "because there wasn't one in Gearhart itself."
"I would love to have some place to get dinner," Planning Commissioner Virginia Dideum said. "This would be good for the community." Dideum was joined by Richard Owsley, Russ Taggard and Carl Anderson in supporting the plan.

Commissioners David Smith, Terry Graff and Jeremy Davis voted against the brew pub, citing the comprehensive plan's dictum: "The city will prevent the city from becoming a tourist destination."
Opinions were divided: Baby Ruth and Snickers bars versus a growler refill. Bottom line was, opponents couldn't find a compelling enough reason to stop it, at least not according to the report submitted by Planner Carole Connell.

In weeks and days to come, the market became topic No. 1 in Gearhart, supplanting the Neacoxie Barn and even the short-term rental debate. It was clear: You were either for us, or against us.
A postcard questionnaire was mailed to homeowners and asked:

"Do you want Gearhart Store to be a Beer Pub? NO. Yes."

"Reverse the comprehensive plan so Gearhart becomes more like Seaside? NO. Yes.

"Do you want overnight vacation rentals in our R-1 residential zones? NO. Yes."

It's pretty clear where that one is headed.

Passions run so high grocery employee Alyssa Logan delivered an impassioned Facebook plea Monday:

"All of us at Gearhart Grocery love our community members, whether they frequent our store or not," Logan wrote. "While we know that a brew pub will not replace grocery needs, we do believe it would be a great asset to the community. The fact of the matter is, that although people love us, they do not shop here nearly enough for us to be a successful, profitable business. This is what community members need to keep in mind when weighing the idea of a new business. As a store, we provide beer, wine and hard sodas -- exactly what a brew pub would offer.

"While Gearhart is notorious for its tight restrictions, I do not believe that the potential brew pub violates any of these," Logan continued. "Every complaint we have heard, whether it be negative or positive, has been emotionally charged and inconsiderate of the business owners and buyers. By appealing or being unsupportive of this transition, you are also being unsupportive of your fellow community members.

"While we appreciate the community's concern, we hope that this open letter will give community members a fresh perspective and enough additional information to allow supportive attitudes and decrease the negativity while we move forward."

Maybe the little corner store is the part of us that has never changed since we first stretched out our arms to put a nickel on the counter. It's the same argument playing out with short-term rentals. It is the world slipping away.

We love Ken's Market in Seaside. We go there when we don't even need anything and always buy something.

Cannon Beach Hardware, aka Screw & Brew, is one of my top five destinations in midtown Cannon Beach. You've got your brew, but you've also got your hardware and supplies.

I stopped by Bud's on 101 in Gearhart, and could buy a quart of milk and a clam gun. Longtime residents may take that for granted, but I sure don't.