Following a restoration project, visitors are welcome at Oak Grove’s “place to remember”
By Stuart Watson
More than 100 years ago, the Oak Grove Store stocked and sold everything from soap to meat.
Now, after a year-long restoration effort and reopening its doors in February, the store again stocks and sells a little of everything, but this time nostalgia is included.
“It’s more of a museum,” says Betty Paddock, who with her husband, Russ, bought the property after two decades of dormancy.
Patricia Huff is the Paddocks’ business partner. “We call it a place to remember,” Patricia says. “One day, 15 different neighbors were in here looking and talking.” The Paddocks have a long history of retail sales in the Hood River Valley, dating back to 1944. “This is our fifth store now,” Betty says.
“Retailing comes in my blood. I tell people I didn’t retire to stay home and clean toilets.” Cleaning toilets may have been easier than the project the Paddocks and Patricia took on with the dilapidated store.
Betty and Patricia had met a few years prior, when Patricia was perusing donations at the thrift store Betty operated at Valley Christian Church.
Betty describes herself as dedicated to the fine art of repurposing. She regularly attends estate and garage sales, sourcing inventory for the church thrift store and, at one time, the thrift store at the Hood River Valley Adult Center.
The Oak Grove Store, which dates back to 1904, had seen better days when the Paddocks got the keys. The basement had a dirt floor that showed signs of regular—and unfortunate—irrigation.
The project started with a clean out and demolition of unsalvageable parts, such as the old ceiling and accumulated clutter from years as a storage barn. The business partners enlisted the help of a crew from WINGS, a local program that provides support to homeless young men.
Among the first upgrades was to pour a concrete floor, then clean and sheetrock in the joists between what would become the bargain basement and the main floor.
The upgrades also included new windows, sized to fit the original openings. “And we kept the sawdust coolers,” Betty says. “That was how they cooled meat. They used sawdust as insulation, until they got electric refrigerators.” One cooler now serves as their office. Before the renovation, exterior walls were crumbling. The trio hired Jim Cheney to oversee the project and Brian Mears to upgrade plumbing. Stone mason Dan Lynch spent nine months restoring the brick walls.
Betty and Patricia talked about installing a wood stove to heat the place, but ended up with a modern heat pump and mini-splits. Finishing the basement added 2,000 square feet of usable space. Books, records and audio equipment, a corner full of classic tools, kitchen equipment and more now occupy the space. Furniture and assorted items that reflect the history of the upper valley are displayed on the main level.
There are old magazines, belt buckles, glassware, lamps and office equipment. The Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum donated four apple crates full of parts. An old meat display case donated by Dolly (Fenwick) Rasmussen functions as a display case for various knickknacks.
Dolly grew up around the store during her father Frank’s 40-year tenure at the helm, before getting married and developing a popular farm and visitor operation—now sold—on the east side of the valley. On display in the case is an old handwritten sale ledger, reflecting the names of early valley farm families such as Anala, Hukari and McCurdy.
Nearby sits welded artwork by Greg Paul and Ken Shute, among items placed on consignment. “You can get a picture frame for $10 that would cost $100 at a frame shop,” Patricia says. The store also features a small kitchen, where they can serve prepared treats, coffee and tea.
“It’s just continual, people coming in and ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ to see what we’ve done,” Betty says. “People say they’re so happy that we took it over and fixed it up.” Patricia echoes the sentiments. “People have walked in and cried and thanked us,” she says. Patricia lives next door, in a house that sits between the store and an old church that was also part of the purchase.
Betty says they hope to restore that as well, and use it as a community meeting place for concerts and events such as weddings. “Betty and Russ are amazing partners,” Patricia says. “It was a calling from God to meet them.”
For more information, visit the store at 2120 Country Club Road, Hood River; call (541) 399-6650; or see the store’s Facebook page.