The sudden death of one of the town of Washington’s leading luminaries continues to reverberate through the hamlet perched on a picturesque platform above the South Yuba River.
Don Owen Edgman, 59, owner of the Washington General Store, died unexpectedly on Jan. 23 from unknown causes, leaving his fellow townsmen stricken with grief and wondering what they will do without the only operating store in the municipality.
“Today is our last day open,” said Lori Redmon, a clerk at the general store, on Thursday. “We have to shut down, and this store has never been shut down. The whole town depends on this store.”
Christopher Bigler, a resident of Washington, said the store provides most residents with everything.
“It’s where we get milk, bread, other food and even fuses and water pumps,” he said. “Now, we have to go to Grass Valley. I don’t have a car, so I will have to either give somebody some money or put my thumb out.”
While many residents are fretting about the impact on their everyday living habits, most people are more concerned with mourning one of the most popular fixtures in Washington.
“Everybody liked him,” said Henry DeCorte, proprietor of the Washington Hotel. “He was a very likeable man; he didn’t have an enemy in this town.”
Edgman was the president of the town water board and was always willing to help out residents with various problems and issues, Redmon said.
“He was a father figure to everyone in this town,” she said. “If you needed help with a couple of bucks till payday or some special orders, we would be there.”
Edgman bought the general store in 2006. He grew up in Oakland and visited the general store in the small foothill town as a child, as his family would camp in the campground along the banks of the Yuba.
Edgman was dedicated to “the little town of Washington,” as he called it.
“I always promote the town first, because what’s good for the town is good for the store,” Edgman told The Union in 2010. “The town comes first, and the store comes second.”
Edgman bought the store as the entire country hung on the brink of a severe economic recession, and he, like most businessmen, felt the pinch through the tough times. But he remained steadfast in his pledge to retain the historic charm of one of the town’s centerpieces.
“I knew this was a little country store, and I didn’t want to be the guy who changed everything,” he said. “When a place like this has been going for at least 100 years, the system’s pretty much in place. It’s a place where you can still get a cold bottle of pop.”
Residents are hopeful that the impending estate sale goes smoothly and the integral shop can begin operating again in about 45 days, said Dina Svenson, who sometimes helped out around the store.
Carol Dexter said just about everybody that lived in Washington would help out in the store.
Dexter would come in and Edgman would ask her to man the counter while he fetched a bag of ice from the back.
It was the type of old-school American approach to business that can only persist in the small, tightly knit communities that endure in remote pockets of the country.
“He was a good boss and a good person,” Redmon said.
Glenda Wright agreed.
“It’s just another piece of the quilt that is Washington that is gone away,” she said.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.