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Retiring grocery clerk known for being a prankster

John HartHank Harr talks with Julie Morgan while scanning her groceries Wednesday afternoon at the SPD in Nevada City.
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Hank Harr remembers his first day on a job he’s held for 35 years.

“I was shaking like water falling off a leaf,” Harr recalled about Oct. 6, 1966.



“Someone gave me an apron and told me to stand off to the side,” Harr said. That day he started as a box boy at SPD Market in Nevada City. The store had run an ad for its big anniversary sale, “so there were a lot of people here,” Harr said.




Horace “Horsey” Bertram, a checker, asked Harr, 16 at the time: “Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Since then, it seems Harr, now a head clerk, has specialized in making customers and co-workers shake like water falling off leaves themselves, either from fear or laughter.

But not for too much longer. Harr will leave his longtime post and retire on March 15.

When co-workers are asked what it’s been like to work with Harr over the years, rooms full of people dissolve into laughter and head-shaking, but they’re short on specifics.

“He creates commotion,” said Dan Painter, one of the owners of the local market, the name of which came from the initials of the original owners – See, Painter and Dilly – when the store was established in 1959.

Painter quipped, “He’s probably one of the most annoying people.”

“He’s a prankster,” said SPD bookkeeper Angie Faucht. “He’ll sock it to you.”

Becky DeLaughter has worked with Harr for 20 years and recalls how he said, “‘Becky, did you know the word gullible is not in the dictionary?’

“And then I answered ‘Oh, really?'” she said, recalling the joke that dawned on her.

“Never give him your e-mail,” Painter warned about Harr.

“He’s the guy we rely on if we have a problem, with electricity, with anything. He helps us,” said Dave Painter, another store owner. Dave Painter went all the way through school with Harr, starting with Nevada City Elementary School and ending with Nevada Union High.

When pressed, Harr will outline pranks he’s masterminded on co-workers, but they involve electricity – or depriving people of its use briefly – bathrooms, hair spray and flammable liquids, so we at The Union can’t get specific, either.

Harr’s been on the receiving end of pranks as well. His favorite: a co-worker scraped a couple of bear-claw pastries off the store’s driveway, but not until a dog named Smoky had a taste of them. The co-worker – Jim Osborn – carefully placed the pastries on a paper towel and admonished Harr not to eat them.

“I swallowed the first one whole and was on to the second when Jim told me where he got them,” Harr said. “It’s worth pulling a prank if you can take it.”

Harr has more coworkers than he did when he started. In 1966, he was one of three box boys, as baggers were known then. Now the store in Nevada City has 12. A second SPD Market opened in Grass Valley in 1981.

When Harr began his career at SPD, bread was 89 cents for three 15-ounce loaves. Lamb roast could be had for 79 cents a pound, chuck roast set families back 30 cents a pound, and a 10-ounce can of Folger’s was 99 cents, American money.

SPD now takes some time to teach baggers the finer points, like hard boxes on the bottom and soft stuff on top, Harr said.

Some of his coworkers he remembers as children shopping in the store with their mothers – and now their children work at the store as well.

After March 15, Harr intends to concern himself with the finer points of golf, fishing and carpentry.

“My first goal is to lower my handicap from 16.7 to a single digit,” Harr quipped.

The time he’s spent working will go into his avocation, carpentry.

He plans to spend many hours near a house he built in Sierra City, “15 minutes from having a chest, chair and line in the water at a hundred lakes,” he said.

And life is expected to calm down at SPD in Nevada City.

Dan Christie, a head clerk who has worked with Harr since 1975, called Harr an institution.

“Customers know him by name,” Christie said. “It won’t be the same without him.”

“It won’t be the same without him,” DeLaughter said. “He’s very upbeat.”

“He’s a very jolly guy. He’ll be hard to replace,” Dave Painter said. “The customers love him.”


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