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Sears Hometown Stores: Trusted brands … and a bluegrass band

Some of Ron Gaynor’s first memories of Sears came in the form of the phone book-thick catalog in his relatives’ outhouse.

The soft pages were a passable alternative for toilet paper. The glossy ones – not so much.

The catalog’s been out of print for 13 years, but Gaynor, 58, now spends his days operating a Sears appliance store on Idaho Maryland Road in Grass Valley. Washing machines are pressed up against the walls like a Laundromat; rows of factory-fresh refrigerators form a barricade in the middle of the showroom.



The Sears name might seem unusual outside the confines of a shopping mall, but the family-owned Grass Valley Sears is one of about 1,000 “Sears Hometown Stores” nationwide. While they’re owned locally, they take the Sears name, offer Sears’ credit and have Sears’ selection.

The 114-year-old household name also helps in a tough economy.




“The name Sears is a tremendous advantage,” Gaynor said. “People consider themselves Sears families. They say everything in their house came from Sears.”

A Kentucky native, Gaynor worked with radioactive waste as a geotechnical engineer for much of his life. He got a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Kentucky at Lexington and eventually followed a job to Orange County.

“It was culture shock,” he said – no more white winters. “On our first Christmas, it was 90 degrees outside and we had all the windows open.”

But as the engineering industry went through a shakedown, Gaynor decided to get out and find a “10-year retirement business.” A business broker led him to the Grass Valley Sears in 2000, and he bought the business with his wife Trish, who works as a nursing supervisor at Grass Valley’s Meadowview Manor nursing home.

Thanks to the recession, it’s going to take a little more than 10 years to get the retirement in order.

Gaynor started seeing sales drop off in late 2006; fewer Bay Area transplants were moving in, remodeling homes and replacing a kitchen’s worth of appliances.

“I was in denial for a year, and I didn’t adjust,” he said. “I thought, ‘This will turn around.'”

In tough times, the business has dropped from 21 employees between the Grass Valley and Auburn location, to 12. But sales are up 10 percent this year, which puts the store ahead of others in the country.

“We pride ourselves in great customer service, and because it’s Sears, we have the best selection of appliances,” Gaynor said. “We also service whatever we sell.”

Gaynor’s found comfort from his native Bluegrass State in his adopted Golden State: Nevada County has a vibrant bluegrass music scene, and Gaynor’s a dobro player.

His band, the Banner Mountain Boys, played at the Nevada County fair and local bluegrass festivals.

Depending on who’s working, the bluegrass music may waft through the speakers of the flat-screen plasma TVs perched on the Sears shelf. But the bluegrass is an acquired taste among the staff.

“We sometimes fight over the music,” Gaynor said. “But we almost all agree on ’60s music.”

To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail mrindels@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4247.


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