Landmark leveled – GRA-NEVA owner reflects on 44-year business as building is razed
Cliff Nicholls has seen two buildings where he operated GRA-NEVA Appliance and TV disappear, and he once had to change the store’s address to another street even though he didn’t move.
But while competitors have come and gone, the appliance store continues to prosper at its third location in 44 years, at the Pine Creek Shopping Center in Grass Valley.
GRA-NEVA moved to Pine Creek two years ago to make way for a new Holiday Inn Express and conference center on Bank Street. That entails demolition of four landmark buildings downtown, including a former railroad freight building that was home to GRA-NEVA for 39 years.
As work crews prepared to take down the last remnants of the old structure this week, Nicholls from took time at his retirement home in Glide, Ore., to reflect on the evolution of his Grass Valley business.
A native of Seattle, Nicholls attended Nevada City High School for two years but didn’t settle in western Nevada County until the late 1950s.
“I moved here from the Bay Area because I had three sons, and it was just turning into a rat race,” he said. “We decided to move to Grass Valley because it was a small town with a good reputation and a good place to live.
“I had no idea if I could make it in business or not, but it worked out fine.”
Nicholls, a television technician who decided “the way I could get a job was to make one for myself,” opened GRA-NEVA – named for Grass Valley and Nevada City – in January 1960 in an L-shaped building on East Main Street near Bennett Street. That building was recently torn down to create more parking for Maria’s Mexican Restaurant.
“We outgrew it in three years’ time, and we needed more space,” he said.
So the business moved in 1963 to the old freight building at 112 Colfax Ave.
Nicholls said the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad built the structure in 1937 to ship and receive cargo from the Southern Pacific Railroad. It had been empty for several years when GRA-NEVA moved in.
“It was old and really wasn’t designed to be an appliance store,” Nicholls said. “We had to remodel, and we added a warehouse on one end of it because we ran out of space.”
When the Golden Center Freeway was built close to the business in the ’60s, GRA-NEVA had to change its street address. The city decreed it was now located at 127 Bank St.
Because the freeway partially hid the store from view at street level, the Grass Valley City Council gave Nicholls permission to erect the large sign that was visible outside the building for decades.
Nicholls bought the building from Gilbert Cramer in 1973 and sold it in the mid-1980s to a couple that operated the Gold Bowl bowling alley. But both died before they could complete the purchase, and the building was eventually acquired by Gilbert’s son, Jack Cramer.
Nicholls, 73, still owns the business but moved to Oregon four years ago to be near one of his sons because of health problems. He still visits the Grass Valley area two or three times a year, and his oldest son, Robert, works at the business as a service technician.
“Grass Valley and Nevada County have been very good to me,” he said, “and I appreciate it.”
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