All in the family: Mother Truckers, Natural Selection, and now The Country Store
KNOW & GO
WHAT: Community party celebrating the new ownership of The Country Store, the 20th anniversary of Natural Selection and the 40th anniversary of Mother Truckers
WHERE: The Country Store, 19008 Tyler Foote Rd., one mile past the North Columbia Schoolhouse, Nevada City
WHEN: 3 p.m., October 1.
In the latter part of the ’70s, the back-to-the-land movement was still a big part of the baby boomer consciousness. Lucy and Bruce Bottrell — then in their early 20s — were eager to leave the Bay Area and buy a piece of rural land where they could build a home and raise a family.
They were seriously considering Oregon when a friend suggested they check out a place called San Juan Ridge. They never made it to Oregon.
In 1977, Bruce and Lucy bought into an already existing grocery store called Mother Truckers on Tyler Foote Road, and eventually became the sole owners in 1989.
“The economy was terrible back then — there weren’t a lot of jobs,” said Lucy. “But it was a fun place to work and I was very into the organic food movement. It wasn’t easy in the beginning, but we stayed committed to what we’d started.”
As the years passed, it was clear the store would remain a necessary and popular part of the “The Ridge,” where access to nearby fresh groceries and supplies remains sparse. But customers maintain that it has always been more than a grocery store — it’s a key gathering spot for locals, many of whom live otherwise isolated lives, often down long dirt roads and off the grid.
In 1996, Bruce and Lucy opened Natural Selection in Grass Valley, which was then considered little more than a warehouse with discounted products, yet has since transformed into a full service natural foods store. Due to connections in the grocery industry and the ability to buy in bulk, the store continues to attract customers who are in search of a deal.
The Bottrells’ children, Eli and Julie, grew up helping out in the family stores. But despite their back-to-the-land parents, both went off to college and landed jobs in the tech industry. Eventually, however, Eli got to the point where he found himself working at an extremely fast pace that required him to travel all over the globe. It began to wear thin. His wife, Sara, was working in the same field and it eventually became clear that both were ready for a change.
“We quit our jobs and bought a sailboat in Spain,” said Eli. “We sailed around for 10 months. After that, in 2007, we decided to come back to Nevada County and give the stores a try.”
Today, Eli and Sara oversee day-to-day operations, while Lucy and Bruce have taken a back seat. After 40 years in business at Mother Truckers, and now 20 at Natural Selection, the Bottrell family has recently purchased and revived The Country Store, roughly five miles down the road from Mother Truckers, also on Tyler Foote Road. They’ve hired 12 new employees, adding to their staff of 28.
“It fills a need,” said Eli. “The Country Store gives us the option to do things we can’t do in the other two stores. For example, it has a full commercial kitchen so we can serve food and prepare items to take to the other locations.”
But more than that, the store has open space for community events, and was once known as a place where locals would routinely sit outside and share the news of the day.
“We want to bring back that community feel,” said Eli. “We want a place where people can picnic and listen to live music on the weekends. It had always been a social scene — my mom has a picture of me as a baby sitting outside with her and my dad at The Country Store.”
On Oct. 1, the Bottrell family will be hosting a community party at The Country Store, in celebration of their grand opening, as well as the 20th anniversary of Natural Selection and the 40th anniversary of Mother Truckers. Festivities begin at 3 p.m. and will include live music by Hard Hattie and the Bad Men, The Belfry Brothers, George Schroder, as well as Leta in the Sky with Lauren.
Special guest will be author Hank Meals, who will share the history of The Country Store and the surrounding area.
Booths will be set up selling food (including Grizzly Hill School’s bake sale) and will provide information on local nonprofit organizations, such as the library, community center and the North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center. All proceeds benefit the North San Juan Fire Department. Admission is free.
Despite running two demanding businesses and buying a third, Eli and Sara agree that there’s nothing that could lure them back to the tech industry.
“I love knowing our customers and having the face to face contact every day,” said Sara. “It gives me a real feeling of community.”
“It’s rewarding to have a job where people’s faces don’t glaze over when you tell them what you do,” said Eli. “We’ve always tried to make our businesses exactly what our customers want and need them to be. That’s our only goal — we just want happy customers.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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