DANA MERRYDAY/PHOTO The Bookmine is a community resource for charities, residents and customers - known as "unofficial city hall."

Just when it seemed that things were getting halfway back to a normal existence the virus had other ideas. Just in time for the holidays we, for safety’s sake, are facing a freeze. It has been a brutal year, everything that you thought you could count on has pretty much been counted out.  

After a long run up to the National Elections, you’d think there would be some closure after the votes were counted. But all I learned in public schools about civics, seems to be standing on its head. While this pandemic is surging we have a surreal situation unfolding daily as the war on truth slogs on with little leadership being shown.

I am confident that when all is said and done that our democratic model will survive and medical science will prevail over the virus. Then we can cautiously creep out from under the protective rocks that we are hiding under.

So given all the circumstances happening, what is a Grover to do? For starters, wear your mask and keep safe! If you are planning a gathering for Thanksgiving make it a small one. There will be time for larger get-togethers once the vaccine proves itself effective. An inspirational quip I saw online struck home with me, “We stay apart now so we can gather later!” That sums it up for me, but whatever your plans are for Thursday, I hope they give you as much pleasure as possible. Remember this time and it will make the better days ahead that much sweeter.

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City Hall is closed for public interactions until Dec. 3, but the unofficial site of information of all things Cottage Grove is still open through mask wearing, hand sanitizing, practicing social distancing, limiting the number of customers, and keeping the front door locked. This “other” city hall has no jurisdictional powers, but the Bookmine, on Main St., has served as a nexus for the community for 45 years.

The Bookmine is the place you go if you need to find out something about the Grove. Who can fix a lawnmower? What was the name of that store that used to sell homemade goods produced by seniors? How to get in touch with anybody in town. You can also find current and used books, cards, jewelry, gifts, chocolate, plants, advice, and the latest news.

Anticipating the 45th anniversary of its founding this April, the Bookmine crew had been looking forward to celebrating at the Artwalk on the last Friday of that month. But like many plans that have been dashed by COVID-19, those too had to be shelved. The Bookmine was feted by the “Cottage Grove Covid Caroling Society,” dutifully masked and physically distanced as they surprised Gail Hoelzle with a coronavirus parody of “We wish you a Merry Christmas” and a Covid-free year. The group had a few other coronavirus rewrites on their caroling sheets.

The Bookmine started across the street on April 26, 1975 with a VW van-load of books and the dreams of Ed Gressett and sisters Gail and Birdy Hoelzle. The name was a play on local mining history and snug narrow quarters of the original store. They borrowed the shopping carts from Safeway over Thanksgiving weekend in 1975 to move the books across the street to the current location. This new location is actually the oldest wood-framed building in the historic downtown. The building has seen quite an array of businesses over the years, including a grocery, appliance store, cafe, a cobbler’s shop, discount store, and notably the Helena Saloon. If those wooden floors could talk, we could learn a lot more of Cottage Grove’s history, no doubt!

One of the unique aspects of the Bookmine is its role of being the hub of the community. If you want to know something, you can come with your question and if you don’t get an answer right away, inquiries will be made and it will get to you. Many discussions have been held over coffee around the table in the back of the store in the pre-Covid days. How many of the world’s problems were solved over coffee cup rims we will never know. And if those discussions didn’t solve things, at least it was a positive exchange of ideas. A lot of joys, sorrows, and news were shared as well.

The Bookmine also serves as a vehicle for the many charitable groups in town to sell tickets for their events. The extensive pigeonholed shelves behind the counter serves as a well-oiled box office for soirees, raffles, benefits, dances, and you name it.

I was in the store last week and I learned of one of those miracles that occur in a place like Cottage Grove, due in a large part, to the community connectivity generated through the Bookmine. A good Samaritan noticed something laying on London Road. After stopping she discovered it was an old doll, rather dirty and mud splattered but still in fair shape. She was here from Eugene, visiting a friend. After cleaning up the rescued doll they noticed some names on the doll’s feet. Not being from the area she asked the local friend if she recognized the names. The friend told her, “Go to the Bookmine, they know a lot of people.” And sure enough, one look at the name Stacy Manning was all that was needed to reconnect the doll with her family. Gail Hoelzle knew the family well, and Stacy had been one of the many Cottage Grove youth who had earned high school work experience in an early version of school-to-work developed locally that put a number of young Grovers under the Bookmine’s wing.  

Annie Manning, Stacy’s mom and popular local musical performer, expressed her surprise and joy, “It was so sweet! That anyone would care enough to try and get that doll back really was touching. It is all a mystery. We aren’t really sure when the doll parted ways with Stacy. And then to have it turn up on the road, it must have fallen out of a car, it’s too bad that the doll couldn’t talk.” Stacy was happy to be reunited and took the doll home with her after her last visit home.

This is a testimonial of the value of living in a small, close-knit community. And to the value of having a local business whose services extend beyond the moving of merchandise. Thank you, Bookmine, for all you do for the Grove.

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As the freeze affects not just this business but all of the small, family-run businesses in Cottage Grove it is up to us to help them as much as possible. Instead of taking your trade out of town, whether that means up to Eugene or to Amazon or other online business, consider subscribing to the mantra “shop local – buy local.” Every one of your dollars that are spent locally, stays here. You are supporting your neighbors, and keeping your town vibrant.  

A social media post stated one family’s intention this year to purchase all of its holiday gifts exclusively from locally owned businesses and were asking the community for suggestions. The response was both overwhelming and inspiring. There were nearly 140 responses, many mentioning some of the excellent business offerings in the historic downtown and elsewhere in town. But in addition were local artists and crafters offering a wide variety of unique and interesting products.

The Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce teamed up with Downtown Cottage Grove to also assist in the “Shop Local” department. They have contacted as many businesses as they could to find out what has changed during the “Freeze” as far as hours, restrictions, or other changes and compiled the information in a handy table form. As things change or businesses contact them, the information will be updated. You can find the list at the chamber’s website: www.cgchamber.com.  

One local business, Free Rein – a women’s clothing store at 1601 Main St. – was surprised last weekend to find a Sasquatch had taken up residence at the corner where their business is located.  

It is a corner already made known for friendly gestures through the dedicated personal efforts of Clarence Kreamier, the Cottage Grove Waver. His memorial bench is a reminder of his mission to make people smile by catching their eye while wearing his trademark red, white, and blue top hat, and giving them a big smile and wave. A flagpole with an American Flag was recently placed there with permission from the property owner and through the efforts of Councilor Roberts and other community members. The VFW dedicated it and all remembered that Clarence always had an US flag with him while waving, as befits a proud veteran.

DANA MERRYDAY/THE CHRONICLEDale Smith, owner of Coast Fork Brewing, said they’ve expanded outdoor seating.

Turns out Ernie, the property owner, decided to place the Bigfoot there and also named him, Shaq, the Sasquatch, or “shaq-uatch” if you will. His hopes are that people will like him as much as he does and from reading the comments the vast majority do. Shaq is an over seven foot tall metal sculpture. His oxidized finish led one jocular respondent to suggest renaming him “Rusty” but that is out of the question; Shaq it shall be. Thank you for one more reason to smile when you pass that illustrious corner.

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Harping on about buying local, the South Valley Farmers are planning a winter market that hopefully will happen on Saturday, Dec. 12. It will be outside of the Covid freeze that should end in the early part of December. And it will be outdoors, which is always a plus for avoiding the virus. The location will be the Covered Bridge Brewing Group at the corner of Main and Highway 99. The Winter Market will feature both local farmers and artisans. Besides fresh local produce and winter storage crops, there will be baked goods and handcrafted gifts and one of a kind items. Keep your figures crossed for the Covid freeze thawing enough to let these intrepid entrepreneurs proceed and for some decent weather as well.  

Local eateries, having had a tough row to hoe, during the first shutdown, relied on take out when in-person dining was nixed. Making that pivot was tough enough, but this latest move must be understandably frustrating. For instance, the Covid shuttered favorite, The Pink House, had just got back in the game when the Freeze came to town. The good news is that they will keep take out going if enough customers support their efforts. So if you are a Pink House fan, step up.  

If you can, please support those who are trying to keep their restaurants going during these hard times, it will do you some good to have someone else cook dinner for you. The enjoyment that comes from well-prepared food will perhaps taste better knowing you are helping save someone’s job and business.

Remembering we are all in this together, we will get through it together, and that we stay apart so we can ALL be together when we can gather. Be vigilant, safe, and careful and give thanks for the small blessings that did happen during this year of so many challenges. Blessed Be this Thanksgiving!

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