A last salute to this General

It all started 47 years ago when Jack Combest borrowed $500 from his father to open a small gift shop in Long Beach.

"I just said I wanted to start a business, and he didn't ask," Combest said. "He just gave it to me."

When he first opened the store, the then-engineering student at Cal State Long Beach didn't think he would keep it for a lifetime. Combest said his girlfriend at the time wanted to open a "cutesy baby" store, which didn't exactly sound like an exciting idea for him.

So they decided they would open one that would perfectly fulfill his and her interests and tastes: a shop that sells gifts and items that "you don't really need, but you want."

Now, one of the institutions that has made up a piece of Huntington Beach's identity and history is closing its doors. The General Store at the 5 Points Plaza is closing by the end of the month after almost 25 years in the city and 47 years in Southern California.

"When you're 70, you don't want to work until you're 80 or 90," Combest said. "There's a life to live. You can't work all the time."

And so Combest and his wife, Cherie, are ready to explore life in ways they couldn't do while running the business and raising their two children.

"I just want to be able to get in the car and go without responsibility and go see the world," Cherie said.

They leave behind many faithful customers who helped contribute to the store's success despite its old-fashioned style and the economic downturn.

Vera Frutos, 71, a customer for 20 years, said she's sad the store closing.

"When you're looking for something really special, this is the place to come," she said. "I guess I'll have to find another place."

Dorothy Loreto, 71, has been a customer at the General Store since its early days in Long Beach. He now visits the store every other day.

"We'll miss them, but sometimes you just have to retire," Loreto said.

The store offers a variety of items, including candy, mugs with quotations and messages, jewelry, graduation and baby shower gifts, and seraphims of angels and Disney characters.

The store survived many decades and many ups and downs, but somehow, Cherie said, it's been able to hold its own.

A few years after opening the first store, Combest got drafted to the Vietnam War and left the store with his first wife. Upon returning, he began expanding the business, opening another in Lakewood, then Huntington Beach. He also changed his major to business. Eventually, he closed the two other stores and kept the Huntington Beach location.

Lauren Morris, 25, remembers going to the General Store in Huntington Beach since she was 8 years old. She said she's sad the store won't be part of the city anymore, but that she wishes them the best.

"They've been in business for so long," Morris said, "and it's time for them to relax."


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