Answer: A local business celebrating one century of continuous family ownership.
Question: What is the Placerville News Co.?
Mary Meader knows the question. She owns the place, the fifth oldest operating business in California. When her grandmother Christina Reeg (later Duffey), bought the business in November of 1912 from local entrepreneur Shelley Inch, it was already more than 50 years old.
Housed in the iconic Shelley Inch building facing the Belltower, the variety store’s historical appearance contrasts strikingly with its smart merchandising.
First-time visitors to the Placerville News Co. might wonder if they’ve wandered into a misplaced MGM movie set or an extension of Disneyland’s Main Street USA.
Mary’s son Jeff is the family historian.
“The walls are made of stacked shale three feet thick,” he pointed out, adding that the second story came about in 1898 by Mr. Inch, who embellished the facade with sheet metal and cast iron ornamentation from the legendary Mesker Brothers Iron Works.
After buying the store, Grandmother Christina then acquired the building from Mr. Inch a few years later. The family lived upstairs. Her son George Duffey grew up in the store, managing it for more than 70 years until his passing in 1998.
Widely respected, George was tough and kind. “No meant no,” remembers Mary.
His brand of customer service, his compassion, eye for detail, and astute management captured the loyalty of generations of Placervillians.
“Nothing rattled George,” said a friend. “Once a robber wearing a bandana mask over his face tried to rob the store. George knew the guy by the sound of his voice, and ordered him out. The robber ran.”
Along the way Placerville News Co. became a dealer for Kodak (over a hundred years), Schwinn Bicycles, wagons, B-B guns and hunting/fishing licenses.
Mary Duffey Meader remembers anxious sportsmen pounding on the door in the middle of the night, wanting to buy licenses. George would get up, answer the door, sell them their permits, then go back to bed until the next urgent knock.
Like her father, Mary also grew up in the store, and followed in his management footsteps.
Jeff is the third generation to grow up behind the counter and his two pre-teen kids are right behind him.
His sister Christy works for the store as well.
The old and the new are everywhere. Mary blends them with appealing balance. Today’s visitors encounter squeaky plank floors and aging display cases.
Newspapers, magazines, books and stationery, bedrock products in the beginning, are still the cornerstone merchandise today.
But there’s more — quality art supplies, costume jewelry, scented candles, signs, snacks, candy, soda, sophisticated puzzles, U.S. Survey maps, outrageous greeting cards, a stationery line, fine glass and porcelain figurines, innovative games, freshly popped corn and cool comics.
Walls are festooned with funny and useful product ideas. And somehow it’s all organized and neat.
“Everybody does everything around here,” she states matter-of-factly.
Longtime Placervillian Jim Zeek has been haunting the place for 70 years.
“I used to buy comics and candy here in the ’40s. Now I buy books celebrating Northern California nature. The times and merchandise change,” said the organic farmer, “But this family has been unchanging in their commitment.”
Ask Mary to sum up her years thus far and the answer isn’t surprising. “Lots of fun.”
What is her greatest reward? “Friendships. I like people,” she said.
What has been the least rewarding aspect of the business? A pause, then, “Nothing, really,” she added.
Conscious of the 100-year legacy, Mary, Christy and Jeff seem certain the store will continue its unbroken love affair with the community. After all, the family has plenty of energy, focus and a great passion for what they do.
And, the century is still young.