Editors note: Story corrected Feb. 13, 2012 –
More than one person looked at the 20 years worth of debris stacked inside the old Hill City Store and Saloon and said it wasn’t worth fixing up.
It would cost more than it was worth in time, talent, hassle…. Ione Kaylor heard it all. She didn’t care. Despite the fact there were plenty of people in her life who thought she was crazy to even try to make the old building into anything more than a broken down shed, she was determined to make it work.
They underestimated Kaylor’s will to make it happen. Really, it was more of a drive.
“Once we started, we couldn’t step back,” Kaylor said. “We’d stop and go into town for lunch and everybody would ask us what we were up to. Everybody was expecting it.”
The project of restoring the 100-year-old business started last summer. The building’s owner, Rollie Bennett is a friend of Kaylor’s. When he retired after nearly 30 years as the Camas County Clerk, he told her he had two goals. He wanted to restore a 1923 International pickup and open the store.
Mark Kerner, Kaylor’s boyfriend, looked at the pickup. A Shoshone dairyman with a passion for mechanics and old cars, he could get the vehicle running. No problem. The building – that was a different story.
“I kept saying, ‘There ain’t no way. It’s too far gone’,” Kerner said.
Kaylor put on her work gloves and started hauling loads of garbage to the dump. The initial plan was for her daughter to manage the bar and store, but even she threw in the towel. Kaylor kept digging. She filled dumpster and dumpster – including 14 in a weekend – before they could start basic repairs. The plumbing needed redone, new lumber, propane lines reworked, insulation. Every weekend, evenings and holidays Kaylor and every friend or family member in the area would work, clean, plumb, paint, hammer – whatever was needed. A few walked away shaking their heads, but most stayed and came back the next day.
“Every time we needed help, we didn’t have to ask, it just showed up,” Kaylor said.
It wasn’t without a few surprises. Two winter parkas had been stowed in ice chests. An old candy counter in need of new glass, old metal advertising signs — about a foot of bat guano supported by an old roof tin. In the corner of the store where the old Hill City Post Office still supports old combination mail boxes, it was as if time stopped. There were stamps and papers stacked and ready for the next day’s work. Mail still in the boxes. In the cash register: $30.
Mike Menkee was one of those friends who started at the beginning and never left.
“I can be part of this,” Menkee said. He said after a bad day, he can turn toward Hill City instead of heading directly home. Once he’s here, the worries are gone.
“I like it at the end of the road. I like the personal bar. Everybody comes here because it feels like home.”
The shelves are stocked with grocery basics as well as locally raised produce (in season) and arts and crafts from area artisans. In keeping with the family atmosphere, she always has a Crockpot full of warm food so when neighbors stop in they can get a bite to eat. This summer, Kaylor is hoping to host farmers markets outside and have local artists working near the store.
“Everyone has to bring a little of themselves in here,” Kaylor said.
Kaylor said she’ll try to keep the store open seven days a week. Sometimes she has to close up to head into town for supplies or maybe to have dinner with friends. She’ll always leave a note in the door – she’ll be right back.