In a town that once seceded from the United States, the spirit of self-reliance, grit and fierce independence in Rough and Ready seems to live on in many of its townsfolk.
With homes scattered along wooded hillsides, down dirt roads and along gullies, many residents say they’d rather not make the trip into Grass Valley if they don’t have to.
In an area with spotty cell phone service at best and routine power outages, resident Roger Wirtz says the best place to catch up on “your latest gab” is at the Rough and Ready Country Store. The small tables outside offer a good view of the new fire station, as well as the cars that slowly make their way through the center of town.
“We sit out on the porch and shoot the breeze,” said Wirtz, who says he’s been coming to the store twice a day for the past 12 years.
“Everyone comes here; the people I’ve met at the store have become true friends.”
That’s the sentiment owner Raj Dhillon likes to hear. He bought the store in May 2012 and says he’s worked hard to honor customer inventory requests despite the small profit margin of a country store.
Since being handed the keys, Dhillon has extended store hours and thoroughly cleaned, renovated and organized the rustic building.
“So much of what I’ve added comes from what my customers have asked for,” he said. “For example, we’ve got a pretty impressive wine selection.”
While milk, bread, beer, wine, lottery tickets and cigarette sales are consistent when it comes to sales, The challenge of a small store has always been identifying other items that folks want or need.
Dhillon and his staff make deli sandwiches on site and the shelves offer anything from cat food, to fishing bait, to ice cream bars, to charcoal briquettes, to Lucky Charms.
“Raj has been good at getting more stuff in here on a regular basis,” said store employee Debbie Mina.
“He also has a great way of making people feel good — the customer knows they come first. He’s a great boss, and this is the best job I’ve ever had.”
Dhillon said his parents ran convenience stores while he was growing up. Today, his two small children, ages 4 and 2, often drop by with hopes that their father will cave in and give them candy.
“I’ve been working in stores since I was a teenager,” he said.
“I learned to respect money from an early age.”
But clearly Dhillon’s business sense goes beyond the profit margin, said Mina, as his customers were quick to become fond of him.
“We’ve got people who come in every morning for coffee and stay for two to three hours,” she said. “Raj treats all of his customers and employees with respect.”
In a town where many residents are struggling in today’s economy, Wirtz says it means a lot when business owners look out for their customers.
“The staff here are like real family,” he said.
“They make sure my beverages are buckled into my wheelchair. They’re real people.”
To contact staff writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.