IT'S NOT JUST A STORE, IT'S AN
by Jackie Dale
images by Frankie Leal, www.frankieleal.com
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
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;
Sun - Days!