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Local Feature

MINKLER CASH STORE
IT'S NOT JUST A STORE, IT'S AN EXPERIENCE!

words by Jackie Dale
images by Frankie Leal, www.frankieleal.com

Some might call it “the middle of nowhere.” You’ve probably driven past it many times. Cars frequently pass by only to turn around and return, beckoned by the intriguing building that casts subtle hints of a by-gone era Recently erected signs proclaim; “Minkler Cash Store-It’s An Experience!” An experience you truly don’t want to miss. Here is a chance to take a small step back into the past…a step back in history… a step back in time.
As my hand gripped the well-worn brass handle on the door, I felt a sense of nostalgia already lapping at my heels. When I stepped inside, the feeling was more like a huge wave crashing down around me and sweeping me out to sea. Suddenly I was transported back to when times were slower and less complicated. I recalled fond memories of my childhood in the 1960’s when my sister and I would visit stores just like this one, excitedly clutching our coins as we headed to the penny candy counter. Deciding which delectable treat to buy with our few precious cents was always a big decision for two little girls. Candy was always a hands-down favorite, but if it were a hot day, it might be a popsicle or maybe a soda pop.
Minkler is an unincorporated township that was founded in 1892 by Charles Orzo Minkler. A bustling little town in it’s own right, Minkler at one time boasted a train depot, a livery stable, a blacksmith and a hotel/saloon. Minkler Cash store, probably known as a merchantile back then, carried virtually every item one might need. The original store was torn down in 1920 and rebuilt just a few feet away from the former location. Minkler was also a popular staging area for expeditions into the nearby mountains and a frequent first stop for those coming down.. The store stayed in the Minkler family until 1940 when it was sold to Grace Russell, however the land still belonged to the Minkler family. Grace ran the store for 30 years before selling it to, Sylvia Ashcraft in 1970. Sylvia made some changes such as installing the walk-in refrigerator and the business thrived. In 1978 Sylvia purchased the land itself from Charles Orville Minkler, effectively becoming the owner of her own town. When she was 15, Sylvia’s daughter Mary began working in the store after school and on weekends. Slicing meats and cheeses, pumping gas and toting bags of feed were among her many duties.
Minkler Cash Store was so named because unlike many others, the Minkler store did not engage in trading. It was a cash-only business. To this day, the store still operates on a cash-only basis. Mary Novack took over operation of the store three years ago after her mother had a stroke at age 85. Up until her illness, Sylvia had continued to work daily at the store. The store faltered somewhat as Sylvia advanced in age but Mary has resurrected the store to it’s former glory and quite a bit more. “
“A charming array of eclectic Americana” is an apt description of the store’s décor. In the center of the store stands a brightly painted upright piano. On this particular day, regular patron Jeff Butts provided the background music for part of this interview. Our mini-concert included “The Tennessee Waltz”, “The Rose” and “Nadia’s Theme”. Customers are always welcome and encouraged to play something if they want to! A long wooden bar runs along one side of the store where ice-cold beer is served. On Friday afternoons a group of regulars gathers to discuss the events of the week and unwind. Regulars can be distinguished from the rest of the population by their distinctive name plates, fashioned from the back of cut-up cigarette cartons. Honorary Acting Mayor, Michael Sean Sullivan sports a fancier marble nameplate.
Grocery items line one wall, sitting on built-in wooden shelves. There are also the usual requisite items; snacks, drinks, candy. And then there are the obscure. A glow-in-the-dark light switch. A bottle of “Gee, You’re Hair Smells Terrific!” shampoo (circa 1970’s). A jar of “pig butts”. Mary just smiled and said, “Those fly off the shelf”. Products from local artisans are very popular, particularly with tourists. Locally roasted coffee, gourmet mustard, jellies, and hand painted cards are just a few of the many unique treasures one will find here. Mary sells Minkler Cash Store souvenir shirts that promise “Tasty Treats and Special Stuff”.
Mary tabulates customer purchases on what is likely one of the world’s oldest adding machines. She then punches the total into an equally ancient cash register and cranks a handle on the side to open the drawer. The low-tech experience is completed by the fact that there is no ATM or credit card machine. Even the red wall phone has a rotary dial! There is a large photo on the wall that depicts the railway that ran through town and the Minkler depot sign. If you turn around you see that same (really big) sign is now hanging on the wall in the store. This place is so steeped in history you can almost hear the sound of a horse drawn wagon clip-clopping up outside.
Mary encourages visitors to sign her guest book and a look at it proved quite interesting. I saw entries from Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, England, Denmark and Estonia. Minkler gained worldwide notoriety in 2004 when it was listed for sale on Ebay at a mere $600,000 for the whole town. There was a lot of publicity and a few serious offers. The auction ended with no takers. In 2006 negotiation was entered into with an interested buyer from Oregon. However, shortly thereafter Sylvia suffered her stroke and the decision was made to keep the store after all.
Minkler Cash Store is located at 18243 E. Kings Canyon Road, Sanger. They can be reached at 787-2456. Just a few miles north of Reedley, it sits right on the infamous Minkler curve. A word of caution, cars often travel faster than they should on the curve so signal early and look carefully before making the turn in the parking lot. A few weeks ago a suspect fleeing law enforcement officers did not make the curve and crashed at the store. Three porch beams were knocked down, the concrete porch was chipped off on one corner and the ice machine has a large dent. Fortunately, Mary had uncharacteristically closed the store that day to go to the Ag Expo so there were no cars or people around. The building itself was unscathed and the damage was mainly cosmetic.
In the guest book, the visitor from Estonia described the store as “A living piece of American history.” Stop by soon and see for yourself the truth in that statement! The store is open Monday-Friday from 8 am to 6:30 pm. On Saturdays Mary sleeps in a bit and opens at 8:30 am. As the sign painted on the side of the store says;
Open Most
Crazy
Lazy
Fun
But No
Sun - Days!

 

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