Rebuilding A Vibrant Downtown Yreka
By Jon Lewis
A New StoryOctober 2015
Story and Photos by Jon Lewis
The placques on the front of Old Town Yreka’s buildings tell stories familiar to many who have poked around the North State’s historic towns. There are tales of hardworking merchants, homesteaders, fortune-seeking prospectors, devastating fires and rebuilding.
Inside the 19th-century buildings along a vibrant Miner Street, a new story is being told, one of a mining camp that hung on after the gold strikes panned out and its residents who embrace their city’s rich history while readying for a bright future.
Linda Martin grew up in Yreka and watched as her hometown, like other resource-dependent communities, took a big hit when the timber industry declined in the 1980s and ’90s. The big recession in 2008 dealt the town another blow, but these days she says Yreka is on the upswing.
Martin joined her sister-in-law, Heidi Martin, and opened The Sewing Room in December 2013. At the time, there were seven empty storefronts on Miner Street. Today, they’re all occupied by new businesses. Popular newcomers include the Etna Brewery Tap House, the Miner St. Meat Market and Shasta’s Chocolate Emporium.
“I like the historic district,” Martin says. “The stores here were the hot place to be when I was in high school.” That renewed energy prompted Martin to branch out and open Brown Eyed Gal Designs Vintage Home, which specializes in furniture restoration and home décor.
Candy Mott moved to Yreka in the 1950s and fell in love with Miner Street, so it was only natural to open her businesses—Celestial Flowers & Dreams and the Yreka Soap Co.—in the heart of Yreka’s historical section. “My one dream was to have a store on Miner Street,” she says.
Not only does she love the history, with buildings dating back to the 1850s, but Mott enjoys the sense of support and camaraderie with her fellow business owners. “We’re like a family. You know who’s on vacation and whose plants you have to water. We feel fortunate that we’re on this street.”
“Yreka has always been a neat place to live,” says Randy Gibbons, who notes with some satisfaction that the city has yet to double its population in the 65 years he’s called it home. “I love the weather—it’s not too hot and not too cold—and you have four seasons,” he says.
Gibbons and his wife, Mary Jane, opened MacGregor’s Gifts, Grogg & Book Emporium seven years ago, after rehabbing a historic bank building. “It’s a tough time for bookstores these days, but we’ve endured. We’re still getting new customers, and a lot of them are people who live here,” he says.
Downtown Yreka is undergoing a bit of a renaissance, he says. “It was real tough there for a while, but there are a lot of new businesses coming in.” Like other Miner Street merchants, Gibbons has diversified. In addition to fiction and non-fiction offerings, the store carries a variety of locally produced art works, coffee and tea. While Mary Jane staffs the store and tends to their bustling Internet sales business, Gibbons takes care of his RV repair
After 31 years in business as the owner of Don’s Sporting Goods, a store he bought from his parents in 1984, Drake Davis has seen business ebb and flow. One thing remains constant: “Downtown is the heart of the community.”
Unable (and unwilling) to compete with big-box counterparts, Davis focuses on specializing and carrying high-quality product lines. As a sportsman himself, he can give his customers personalized information on fishing and hunting. And when the fish aren’t biting, he’s not above sharing tall tales over a cup of coffee.
Mike Simas, who opened Gold Nugget Printing 31 years ago, says he appreciates the historic nature of Miner Street and the upbeat attitude shared by his fellow merchants and the Yreka Chamber of Commerce.
Simas sees more prosperous times ahead for the historic district, especially when compared with the early days when he started out. “Miner Street was pretty ugly back in 1984. There was 50 percent vacancy on the street. This is the best it has looked, ever.”
Lisa Clyburn likes the look of the Odd Fellows Lodge building (established in 1853 at the corner of Miner Street and Broadway) because she remembers running through the building as a 3-year-old when it was Yreka Drug.
These days, she and Lizzi Martinez operate Bella Art Works in the grand old building, offering ceramic painting, a glass fusing studio and an ice cream parlor. When asked what she likes about operating a business in Old Town Yreka, Clyburn smiled and offered a straightforward answer: “We get to have parties and eat ice cream.”
Yreka Art Walk: 5-8 pm Oct. 23