Pulling off the Washougal River Road into the gravel parking lot, I scanned the dozen or so parked cars for a familiar face. None stood out, but then again, I hadn't been a regular at the Washougal River Mercantile for the better part of a decade.
"Do you still come here a lot Mom?" I asked.
"All the time." She responded from the passenger seat.
Parking in an empty place, I checked my pockets for my wallet and grabbed a handfull of change from the ash tray. I was hungry, and the Merc (as it is is called by locals), was the only option for 20 miles.
The steel bell chimed as I pushed the door open. A few members of the Fuller family (three generations work at the store) stood around the cash register and met me with a familiar smile. I said hello back and continued towards the grocery section. They layout, selection and prices, haven't changed much since is started going there 20 years. Heading towards the deli section, I searched the heat lamps for a bacon egg and cheese breakfast sandwich. All sold out.
"A little late to the party." I murmured as I checked my watch and headed towards the expansive beef jerky section for my protein fix.
Growing up 10 minutes away from the Merc afforded me an intimate knowledge of its offerings. Some of the more glamorous purchases over the last 20 years include but aren't limited to; my first .22 there, a Savage Single shot bolt action, my first rated R movie there, The Rock, and my first steelhead fishing set up were all purchased at the Merc. In addition to these notable purchase are countless Charleston Chews, gallons of milks, pipe fittings, and dozens of eggs.
As a kid, it seemed liked the best store in the world with everything I wanted and nothing I didn't. It still holds true.
Once ubiquitous in rural areas, these stores are fading to obscurity in the wake of suburban sprawl and shopping centers. It's happening in Washougal. With the Portland Metro area constantly growing outward, places like the Merc are feeling increased pressure from chain grocery and sporting good stores.
All the beverages you need.
The hunting and fishing bragging wall. Someday I'd like to make it on here.
Grabbing my coffee and Tillamook beef jerky pack, I walked past the pluming section towards the cash registered.
While searching my pockets for rolled up dollar bills I made small talk with the clerk. She had been my baby sitter when I was 10 and hadn't recognize me. While talking, I noticed a hand written sine taped to the cash register. The Sharpie on 8.5X11 paper read, "Gas Purchases limited to 10$." Taking a swig of my coffee, I bid farewell and pushed the sliding door open. Walking towards the syncro, I milled the implications of the sign over.
"No gas sales over 10$? Would that even get you to Washougal?" I asked my Mom as she walked up to the Syncro. I stood with my back against the drivers side.
"It's not good. They must be really strapped for cash."
"Those places are going the way of the Blackberry. what a shame," I said popping open the drivers door and jumping into the seat.
"Sure is," she agreed.
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