Like faces, places pick up nicks and scuffs as they age.
Ask politely, and those nexuses of memory may spill their tales of people and happenings.
By now, Rob Gerson, who started as a box boy in 1986 when Auburn’s Main Street Market was still Green River Market, and who has owned the store since 2001, knows every chip and feature in the 55-year-old building, and the people who shop there.
Like the meat-hanging device in the back of the store on which his younger self with darker hair was known to do a pull-up or two.
And that bench up front, that’s where the later Frank Cuddie, a retired, independent mechanic and the brother of one-time owner Jack Cuddie, used to sit and work the Seattle Times crossword for hours every day, and chat with Gerson and his crew.
“Pretty much every window in here has been broken at one time or another, either from a car crashing through or vandalism or a break-in,” Gerson said, nodding toward the most recent, boarded up smash-and-grab.
On the counter of the self service center, a battered old tape deck that has somehow survived the entire span of Gerson’s employ at the cost of only a button or two and still works.
Behind the counter, obviously for protection against folks with evil intentions, a baseball bat.
“Now that’s never come into play,” Gerson said with a laugh of the Louisville Slugger.
Time to move on
Now Gerson is closing up shop. Not because of declining sales — “business is fine” — and not for any lack of community support.
It’s just a question of time, said Gerson. At 51 years old, he feels the pull to do something different. He expects his last day on the job to be May 31. He is open to a buyer.
“I’ve been working toward this time frame to get out of the business, regardless of what was going on here. Everything came together to say, ‘This is the time.’ I didn’t want to liquidate or get out of here in the summer because that’s the busiest time of the year. I knew it would either be last fall, now or next fall. This is the time I worked with the current owners of the building to say, ‘OK, time to step away.’”
As of today, Gerson does not have a definite closing date, though he’s shooting for May 31, give or take a day or two. This summer he expects to travel with his girlfriend, a teacher in the Auburn School District. When he returns to Auburn in the autumn, he said, he’ll figure out his next step.
The store started out as J & Js, then it was Thriftway, then Green River Thriftway, then Green River Market, then Auburn’s Red Apple, and finally Auburn’s Main Street Market.
Gerson was in his senior year at Auburn High School when he began working for Jim Wolters. After Wolters’ sudden death in 1989, he stayed on with co-owner Dave Johanns. He continued working there after Jack Cuddie bought the store in 1991, and he worked for Kevin Dunn from 1998 to 2001, when Dunn closed the store. There months after that closure, Gerson bought the place and reopened it.
“The main thing I’ll miss is the customers,” Gerson said. “I’ve worked here since 1986, and I just know so many customers, I’ve seen their kids grow up, and now their kids have kids. It’s a lot of tight bonds with people, and it will definitely be hard to leave that part,” Gerson said.
His many customers already miss him.
“It’s where I get my dog biscuits for my dogs on my route,” said Brian Davenport, a letter carrier with the Auburn Post Office. “We sit and talk sports all the time, so yeah, I’m going to miss him.”
Auburn chiropractor Tom Hughes drops by almost every morning to pick up a piece of fruit and granola and stays to chew the fat with Gerson, to “talk sports and solve all the problems with the Huskies and the Seahawks.”
“I’ll miss the store, and his friendly face. He’s local guy and an Auburn High School graduate,” Hughes said of Gerson.
For Carol Pulaski, the loss is also personal.
“It’s a community store, and the people who work here are almost like your family or friends,” says the retired nurse. “I’m going to miss his excellent customer service. He takes the time to make the right amount, so I never have to worry about being overcharged. And they’re always nice here; they treat you like a human being. We all want to stay and talk, you know, say ‘hi, how ya doing, how’re your pets doing?’ I think everybody is going to miss it.”
Of course, Gerson said with a laugh, every interesting store gathers a few “characters,” the hes and the shes who perhaps hang out at the joint a smidgen too long, and need encouragement from time to time to ease on down the road.
“This store has so much character, I almost think of it as a person, an old soul you fill with life and the people come and gather here,” Gerson said.