Crystal Hunt and Dorothy Cooper at the former Past 45 Arts & Crafts shop in Cottage Grove. PHOTO/COTTAGE GROVE HISTORICAL SOCIETY

COTTAGE GROVE – When looking for a place in Cottage Grove 11 years ago, we checked out a lot of houses. 

One was an older, cute home right on the tracks in north Cottage Grove. It was on a whole acre and was the only place within the Cottage Grove city limits that you could legally have a horse. 

Most significant was that the historic Dr. Pierce’s Barn also came with the property. We took a good look inside of the barn; it obviously needed work, but we didn’t worry about that. 

As you came into town, the Pierce Barn was a landmark and a welcoming sight. Had we taken this on, we would have considered it our duty to help preserve this icon. 

Unfortunately, the asking price was at least twice our budget, so we couldn’t reasonably consider buying it. Had we known what the barn’s fate was to be we would have certainly made an effort to at least hold on to it until a better option came along. 

This National Register of Historic Places landmark was destroyed through a process I can’t claim to understand in 2012. 

In losing this 1909 barn, it took with it a relic of Cottage Grove’s rural past. 

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As sad as this memory is, another community treasure lost weighs just as heavy on me – the closing of the Past 45 Arts and Crafts Store. 

With the help of former mayor Bill Whiteman, a collective group of about 30 members first formed Past 45 in February 1972, initially setting up shop in a small room behind Gonzales Taco House on Whitaker. 

Squeezed in between West Coast Machine Guns and The Grove Club, the nonprofit was a place for seniors over 45 to bring their creations to sell. The members each paid annual dues ($10 in 1999), and operated on a consignment basis. 

The governing board, a president (Alma Monroe being the first), a bookkeeper, and sales clerks and everybody else, were all unpaid. When a sale was made, 75% of the price went to the member, and 25% went to support the organization and to pay rent and utilities. 

The Bookmine owner, Gail Hoelzle, recalls it was common to rag on friends by gifting them an application to join “Past 45” on achieving this milestone as a sort of gag birthday gift.

Past 45 was one of the things that made us want to be a part of this community. Reading the posted store hours and seeing “Sundays – open after Church” warmed our hearts to this town.

The Ides of March claimed not only Caesar but this craftsperson’s collective. This oasis of nostalgia – filled with labors of love – sputtered to a stop on March 15, 2014. 

We loved going into the store. The workmanship was amazing, and considering the handwork involved, very reasonable prices. In our home are a number of items that came from Past 45. 

There was a wide variety of things available: jewelry, children’s toys, furniture, sweaters, baby gifts, home decor, woodcrafts along with many one-of-a-kind items. 

“It was a tight group who worked downtown,” recalls Dorothea Perkins, past-president. “Our makers were also good customers and like family … The volunteer shop clerks worked together to help people find a gift when they didn’t know exactly what they were looking for.”

Former members recalled in past articles of the local newspaper that the collective provided validation for them — “a reason to get up in the morning.” Many sellers were widows, widowers or retirees that found time laying heavy on their hands; the creation of their art was like therapy, and the company they kept at the store served as a support group of sorts. 

There were potlucks and social gatherings too in the early part of the group’s history. The group members were mostly women crafters, while the men tended to be “the wood guys” who turned out a variety of wooden products, ranging from toys and kitchen items to spinning wheels.

The crafts collective ended up moving three times: onto Main Street next to The Club, then to 35 S. 6th St. (where Cottage Grove Community Acupuncture is now), before landing at its final destination, 527 E. Main St. It is fitting that this address still hosts a collective-style store, Main St. Galleria, along with Gregg Biller’s guitar repair business.

When it started out, Past 45 was exclusively for Cottage Grove-area crafters. As word spread, others wanted to be a part of the scene and eventually included folks from Drain, Springfield, Elmira, Yoncalla and as far away as La Pine. 

Sometimes having your craft in the store led to other possibilities. Other members also received special-order requests. The members experimented with different items to see what would sell and what didn’t. You wanted something unique that stood out in the vast array of handwork. While styles and tastes changed throughout the years, not surprisingly, Oregon State University Beaver and University of Oregon Duck items were perennial favorites on the shelves.

Much like the Biblical reference of a prophet not having honor in his own country, it seems that visitors were the ones who really got excited when discovering the kaleidoscopic variety of handmade items at cheap prices. International trade from Germany, England, New Zealand, and Sweden got a boost as tourists from those countries who stumbled upon the shop were very happy to take home some real “Made in USA” souvenirs and gifts. 

Perkins recalls that much business happened in the summer when our neighbors south of the border would come and buy large amounts of stock. Some of it was destined for resale in their own businesses back in California. Groups from the Golden State made annual visits to Past 45, giving it a summertime shot in the arm. 

The sentiment of not having honor – or at least financial support from the local community – had a hand in Past 45’s demise and eventual closing. When the decision to close was made in 2014, there was an outpouring of support and business. 

It was a case of too-little-too-late. The doors closed and a book of 42 years of magical memories shut its covers.  

“For a long time we were always busy and held on for a long time,” Perkins said. “In the end, I think people wanted more modern stuff and the lack of folks going downtown is what did us in.”

It also didn’t help having the great recession leading up to and aiding in the decline of business, nor the disruption caused by the Highway 99 and Main Street renovation.  

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One of the aspects of being past 45 is that much of your life is in the rear-view mirror. Sadly, many of its members have passed away or have moved out of town. I was only able to speak to Perkins in preparing this story. 

In my research, I stumbled upon an article describing two extensive scrapbooks covering the history of this group, but have yet to track down their whereabouts. If perchance, reader, you should have an idea where these books are, I would love to hear from you. 

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Taking Past 45’s journey as a cautionary tale: support the local businesses that you want to see around. The Covid conditions have already claimed some other longstanding business ventures and others are wavering. 

Social media “likes” and all the well wishes in the world won’t keep the lights on. Please put your money where your mouth is and get your feet through their doors so we don’t lose further pieces of the fabric that makes the Grove such a special place to live.  

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