Immigrants settling in at Skamania General Store

Iranian-born couple are making a century-old small-town institution their own

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter

Published:

 

When Kourosh Zamanizadeh was a junior and senior at Mountain View High school a decade ago, he was the student representative for western Washington on the State Board of Education.

When Kourosh Zamanizadeh was a junior and senior at Mountain View High school a decade ago, he was the student representative for western Washington on the State Board of Education.

SKAMANIA — The sign in front of the Skamania General Store still advertises biscuits and gravy.

Well into its second century, the white wooden landmark remains a place where Columbia Gorge residents can pick up a few staples, or where travelers on state Highway 14 can fuel up.

And now they can pick up some hummus and pita.

Other offerings reflect 21st-century ownership in a 100-year-old setting. Do customers in the store’s Beacon Rock Cafe eat a lot of a grilled eggplant?

“They do now,” Firoozeh Zamanizadeh said. “And they like it.”

She is part of a Vancouver family that has owned the Skamania General Store for almost four years. It has been a big adventure for the Zamanizadeh family, which includes sons Kourosh and Armun, but it isn’t their biggest adventure.

Firoozeh and Muhammad Zamanizadeh (she goes by Rose and he goes by Mike) took separate paths from Iran to the United States when they were teens.

Kourosh Zamanizadeh said that his parents grew up on the same block in Iran and “they had been elementary school students together.”

Mike came to California in 1979, when he was 14, to go to school. Rose arrived a few years later when she was 19; she also came here for an education, but Rose’s move was much more dramatic because of the Iranian Revolution. Her family had ties to the previous regime, and after the revolution, many opportunities were closed to her.

After graduating from high school, “it was impossible for me to continue my education in Iran,” she said. “I decided to come here.”

When Rose flew into Oakland, Mike met her at the airport.

“Pops always had a crush on Mom,” said Kourosh, who works for an investment management firm in San Francisco.

Mike and Rose both studied architecture in college and were married in 1985. The Zamanizadehs came to Vancouver in 1994.

“Construction was booming up here,” Mike, 51, said.

They became American citizens here and raised their family in Vancouver. Kourosh is a 2005 graduate of Mountain View High School and studied business at the University of California at Berkeley. Armun graduated from Mountain View on June 10 and will study mechanical or electrical engineering at the University of Washington.

Mike did residential construction and Rose worked as an architect until the housing market crashed. They had to find something new, and it turned out to be something they were familiar with.

“We’d been in love with the area, and had been looking to buy a cabin,” Rose, 50, said.

Then Mike found the store 33 miles east of Vancouver listed in a real estate magazine.

“I knew it well,” he said.

Buying the place was a big jump for his parents, Kourosh said: “Dad left an industry he’d been in a long time.”

But Mike could use those construction skills to renovate the store and remodel the cafe. Rose took over management of the eatery.

Seeing the property go to enthusiastic buyers was great news for Skamania residents, said Michelle Sobaski, who manages the general store. The residents need a place to pick up a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk, Sobaski said.

The store, which dates to 1906, also serves a social role.

“It’s always been a place where the community meets,” Sobaski said.

Dianna Jones, a resident of the community, said the store’s operation under the Zamanizadehs “is the best it’s been in 30 years.”

A previous owner tried to sell the store several times and kept getting it back because the prospective buyers just couldn’t make it work.

Mike Zamanizadeh hasn’t just kept the doors open, Jones said. He has moved things forward.

After the gas pumps had been shut down, “He’s gone over and above to get gasoline, remodel the restaurant, replace the porch and do landscaping,” Jones said.

“These people have been exemplary,” Jones said. “They also are very active in the community.”

Mike has even done some impromptu fire-fighting.

“A man drove up in a Volkswagen bus and came in and grabbed some ice cream,” Mike said. “I saw smoke and told him, ‘Your car’s on fire!’ “

Then he grabbed a fire extinguisher.

“We saved his car,” Mike said. The customer had to do some work on it before he could drive his VW away.

Whatever the setting, his parents have been great examples of hard work, Kourosh said.

“Everybody thinks they work hard. Dad takes it to a new level,” said Kourosh, who was back in town recently for his 10-year high school reunion. “He worked two jobs while attending college: construction worker by day and security guard at night.”

Meanwhile, his mother’s sacrifices “to earn a college degree instilled in me the importance of education,” Kourosh said.

In her role as cafe manager, Rose has learned that the concept of exotic cuisine can be a two-way street.

For someone who grew up eating her grandmother’s baklava, our down-home standbys can be pretty exotic. Like the biscuits and gravy they advertise on that sign.

“I tried it,” Rose said.

She didn’t finish it.