Monday, July 21, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Buffalo Hill Center anchored by Mar-Val

DSC_4061

BUFFALO HILL CENTER owners mark and Irene Smith, both 87, stand in front of the heart of the center that includes Mar-Val Market. Democrat photo by Shelly Thorene

By
From page SOS13 | December 30, 2013 |

Success in business comes in many ways and for Mark and Irene Smith of Georgetown it came over a number of years. The Smiths, married on April 1, 1951, and moved to the Georgetown Divide shortly thereafter, beginning their lives together and their family of five.

“My father was a copper mining engineer in a small town in Nevada,” said Mark, referring to his love and interest in mining equipment, and in a small-town lifestyle. “We bought this land in 1960 and began the first building in 1978, before going on my expedition to the Darien Gap. The center was subdivided into different pieces so I could build and finance each individually.”

The land to which Smith refers is the Buffalo Hill Center in Georgetown. The 12 acres currently houses 21 businesses and employs more than 100 people in the small hamlet just north of Placerville and south of Auburn.

“The town needed a decent market,” said Mark. “We predesigned and designed for the market, and it took 20 years to find someone who wanted to put one in here. We are one of Mar-Val’s five stores.”

“The reason the center is so successful is our tenants,” said Irene. “We want everybody to work together well,” thus being very selective on the types of businesses to which they lease and discerning on the people to whom they lease, as well.

The land where the businesses sit even lends itself well to the success of the center. “We used the land and its contours, and designed the buildings to go with it,” said Mark, adding that’s why it has the three levels it does. The buildings are all of the old-western style, some with wooden sidewalks and tin roofs. Although he also said, “We didn’t want to asphalt the development” the asphalt eventually came and has lent itself well to the increased traffic in the area.

“I bought the property at one time and had planned on developing it, but due to financial problems, had to give it up. I later re-purchased the land and started again.”

Another great characteristic of the center is the huge number of mining and logging antiques scattered throughout in an outdoor display. “We have the largest collection in the state of old mining and lumber artifacts,” he said. In fact, their friend and former actor Perry King was attracted to the area by the mining equipment, according to Irene, who is known for her former dress shop “Irene’s” and her real estate sales.

“On weekends, it’s amazing the number of people milling about looking at the equipment,” said Mark, who served the community as the resident deputy sheriff in his early residence and worked as a logger and real estate developer. “The equipment comes from all over and I’m always looking for more.”

One very special building in the center is the old Catholic Church, which used to sit on Main Street. The Smiths had the building moved when they heard that it was going to be demolished. It was dedicated as a historical building by Ronald Reagan in 1978. Smith acknowledged PG&E and the phone company, next to which the church was located, for their donated time and help in the move.

Prior to developing the Buffalo Hill Center, Mark, who still holds his real estate broker’s license, said he was involved in the development of Rolling Hills, a small subdivision in the middle of Georgetown, in 1958, prior to the time that El Dorado County had a significant building department. He also helped build Forest Meadows subdivision on Hotchkiss Hill, and worked with two other partners before selling his share of 900 acres in Garden Valley where Garden Valley Ranch Estates now sits.

“It was the only way we could keep teachers up here,” said Irene, speaking of the Rolling Hills subdivision. “We built one building at a time,” in the subdivision as well.

“When we moved to town, there was not one foundation,” said Mark, who in the early days also served five years each as the Auburn Lake Trails project manager and county airport manager, helped redevelop the Tahoe Airport and designed terminal buildings there. He is best known for his involvement with the Jeepers Jamboree Committee in its first four decades, and the newer Jeepers Jamboree USA. “It was difficult to borrow money.”

In that realm, Mark said he borrowed $50,000 from Ralph Cole, the local judge at the time and known as the Georgetown Savings and Loan, and put a shell of a building up for the grocery store. “For two years I went around to different markets,” he said. “At one point there were two different people (or groups) that were going to build a market — one in Greenwood and one where the current Lutheran Church is now, “next door to the Georgetown Divide Public Utility District’s main office. “They were going to be smaller markets of approximately 6,000 to 7,000 square feet.”

The Mar-Val “shell” that Smith first built was 16,000 square feet, but today it has expanded to the original planned size of 20,000 square feet.

“Thinking and scheming over what I could do to stop or delay (the other smaller markets), I played a poker hand and bluffed,” said Mark. “When I put up the shell all of the competition dropped out. The building sat vacant for two years while I tried to find a tenant.”

Visiting a variety of “supermarkets” to get a feel for the business, Irene said many of the stores were “filthy. I told Mark we didn’t want to bring that into Georgetown,” she said. “Safeway just laughed at us,” about building a market in Georgetown.

“I have been very fortunate,” said Mark, who has been involved in the introduction of every new model of Jeep since 1972. “My bluffing panned out. The town needed services,” which the Smiths said was their impetus for helping to break up sections of land in the community in the traditional 4-by-4 method. At the time, 160 acres could be divided into four parcels, thus the name. It’s ironic considering Smith’s passion for off-roading, for which he also developed a driving school.

“It’s almost impossible to do stuff today,” he added. “The impact fees alone are prohibitive.” (Mark also wrote a history of his life and times in the book, “Driven by a Dream,” published in 2004 and from which some of the foregoing is taken.)

A huge 1,200-pound, steel buffalo was commissioned for the center in 1994, and acts as the entry icon for the center north of Main Street on Highway 193.

“The buffalo was specially made,” said Irene.

Along with the buffalo is a sign post that lists all of the businesses in the center, including the local newspaper, the Georgetown Gazette, which occupies a suite on one of the third levels.

The Smiths raised their three children — Patti, Greg and Jill — on the Divide, a community in which they hold great pride.

Comments

comments

Rebecca Murphy

.

News

P’ville hires Camino superintendent

By News Release | From Page: B1

 
Heard over the back fence: Public swim times announced

By Bob Billingsley | From Page: B1

 
Highway 50 collision fatal

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1

IRS unveils Taxpayer Bill of Rights

By News Release | From Page: B1

 
EDH community unites to patch up historic barn

By Mike Roberts | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Stay connected through sheriff

By El Dorado County Sheriff's Office | From Page: B1

 
Bird tests positive for West Nile

By Ross Branch | From Page: A1

County gets partial refund on promotional event

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A3

 
Jeepers expo Wednesday in Georgetown

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A3

Help SWR with squirrel babies

By Sierra Wildlife Rescue | From Page: A9

 
.

Opinion

Different place, different priorities

By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A4

 
California rambling: Giving cities a pass

By John Poimiroo | From Page: A4 | Gallery

The rural life: Save the day: Neuter and spay

By Jennifer Forsberg Meyer | From Page: A4

 
.

Letters

A thank you note

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
Prada belongs in Berkeley

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

Ready for Hillary?

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 2 Comments

 
Fukushima

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

Diamond Springs Firefighters Union is corrupt

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
100+ years and thanks

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

.

Sports

Valley View Sports Park

By Julie Samrick | From Page: A6 | Gallery

 
Under the Scoreboard: July 20, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

Schedule: July 21-26

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

 
Becker slips by in wild KWS finish

By Gary Thomas | From Page: A6

Sports Scene: July 20, 2014

By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A6

 
Roundup: July 20, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

Season over for Post 119

By Mike Bush | From Page: A6 | Gallery

 
Sophia Barden wins strut title

By Special to the Democrat | From Page: A7

.

Prospecting

How to safely help a horse

By Wendy Schultz | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Railroad Museum offers a fun ‘History Happy Hour’

By California State Railroad Museum | From Page: B4

 
As we were: Money for home repairs

By Ken Deibert | From Page: B4

Volunteer kitchen help needed in EDH

By Health and Human Services Agency | From Page: B10

 
Marshall Medical Center to host day of fitness and fun

By Marshall Medical | From Page: B10

 
Kids parade for free admission to the fair

By Amador County Fair | From Page: B10

.

Essentials

Crime Log: July 6-8

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A2

 
.

Obituaries

Jerry Grant Young Jr.

By Contributor | From Page: A2

 
Kathryn Noreen Nolan

By Contributor | From Page: A2

Betty Ellene Hock

By Contributor | From Page: A2Comments are off for this post

 
Douglas J. Beam

By Contributor | From Page: A2

.

Real Estate

.

Comics

Shoe

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Sukodu

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Rubes

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
New York Times Crossword

By Contributor | From Page: A8

TV Listings

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Speed Bump

By Contributor | From Page: A8

American Profile Crossword

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Tundra

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Horoscope, Tuesday, July 22, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Horoscope, Monday, July 21, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A8