In the Pipeline: A farewell to Country comforts

It is with sadness this week that I report the closing of one of Huntington Beach's most beloved and venerable businesses, Springdale Country.

For 42 years, proprietors Harold and Karen Marcus have run a store that is just as popular with out-of-towners as it is with locals, because it does so well what so many places try to do but come up short. That is, Springdale Country evokes another era; a simpler, more innocent time and place where locals gather around a candy counter and post office to catch up with each other. But the store also manages to provide a jaw-dropping array of fine and interesting merchandise; a selection that spans many current styles, tastes and budgets. So you get the best of the old and the new.

And while I report with sadness, both Harold and Karen stressed to me that, tough as it may be, they don't want customers to feel that way. They'd rather celebrate their history here in Huntington Beach, rather than mourn. Oh, there's some sorrow in their voices. But how could there not be? Their history is a marvelous dream come true.

Why is the shop closing? As Karen explained, it's never done better than now. It's just that, with 14 grandchildren and she and Harold both approaching 70, they are ready for more family time. And while they tried to find a buyer to keep the store alive, it seems they couldn't find anyone in the next generation who appreciate the beauty of a true mom-and-pop store. "Just a sign of the times," Karen sighed.

They came to Huntington Beach from Montebello after Harold was drafted into the Army in the 1960s. He started here as a pharmacist at the country-style Springdale Drug, which had opened back in 1962. In 1970, when it became available, he and his wife jumped at the chance to own it.

The avid antique collectors envisioned not just a pharmacy, but an old-fashioned gift emporium designed to transport customers back to the cozy warmth of yesteryear. And that's what they created.

The big moment came when they won at an auction the complete interior of a circa-1800s English apothecary. The ornate fixtures, 10 major pieces in all, became the building blocks of the store design. Today, they are all still in place, maintaining the soul of the store.

One woman whose grandfather was a country doctor gave the store his old satchels. The pieces of the past hang on the wall today. Another woman's beveled glass case holds skeins of colorful yarn. And there are other pieces accumulated by Harold and Karen over the years.

Trent Marcus, one of their five sons who worked in the store over the years, told me, "I couldn't be happier for my parents. They have served the community for so long and they will continue to enjoy the relationships well beyond the closing of the doors. I will always remember the excitement of going to work with my dad on Saturdays. The day always included visiting each of the neighboring businesses, eating as much candy as I could stomach and watching USC football games on a small black-and-white TV in the back."

He added that he was also grateful for the life lessons he learned while growing up in a family business —that he learned how to be patient, look people in the eye and treat them with honesty and kindness.

Both Harold and Karen told me that emotionally, closing the business is tough, and a day will probably never go by where they are not thinking about what they can bring into the store. Harold added, "Women depended on Karen's taste so they wouldn't have to go to malls. But it's just gotten harder and harder to do what we do. Still, we are gatherers."

But they have also helped people gather many memories over the years, and there will be no taking those away. (The store also employed no less than 165 local high school kids over the years, creating an environment where kids learned about not just retail, but life as well.)

This reminds me of when Alice's Breakfast in the Park closed, in that we are all less one comfort zone as we lose a place where things seemed a little less hurried and a little more cozy, and where the company always mattered.

I hope I speak on behalf on you, the reader, as I thank the Marcus family most sincerely for all the hard work and creativity they have provided Huntington Beach for so long. Institutions are hard to build, but they did it, and they did it the old-fashioned way, with love and sweat.

The store will likely be gone by fall, so I'd recommend a visit as soon as you can — to linger over the candy counter. To find a special gift. To savor the simplicity and charm of an old-fashioned country store.

To bid farewell.

Springdale Country is at 15802 Springdale St. and can be reached at (714) 893-6513.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County" from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at http://www.facebook.com/hbindependent.

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