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Jan. 29, 2022

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Longtime customers welcome Camas Produce’s return

10 months after SUV smashed into store, owner basks in embrace of community

By , Columbian Staff Writer
6 Photos
Adam Nelson of Camas heads out the door at Camas Produce, where a driver drove through the front of the store nearly 10 months ago. "It's nice to have it back," he said.
Adam Nelson of Camas heads out the door at Camas Produce, where a driver drove through the front of the store nearly 10 months ago. "It's nice to have it back," he said. "It was missed by a lot of people." (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

CAMAS — When Sindhu Kuhle stopped by Camas Produce the evening of Jan. 10, she expected to see devastation. Instead, she saw the store’s owner, Ali Alquraisha, calmly handing out snacks to community members.

“I just wanted to check on everybody and make sure they were OK,” Kuhle said, of hearing that a vehicle had driven into the store. “Ali was there, and he seemed OK. He gave me some peanut butter to take to my kids.”

Kuhle started shopping at Alquraisha’s grocery store when her kids were babies; one is now a high school senior and the other is in 10th grade.

While Alquraisha has been an integral part of the Camas community since he opened his store 15 years ago, he didn’t realize just how much. That is, until someone drove their SUV through the front of Camas Produce, 2940 N.E. Everett St. Nobody was injured in the crash, the third such incident in the store’s history.

Alquraisha said he hasn’t had any contact with the driver, who police, at the time, said was impaired. It’s unclear if the driver was ever charged or cited.

Due to various insurance-related delays and issues, Camas Produce was closed for nearly 10 months.

“I was telling people we’d be back open in two weeks,” Alquraisha said. “I thought, ‘How hard could it be?’ I found out the hard way how hard it could be.”

Longtime customers eagerly awaited the store’s reopening.

“I was harassing him on a regular basis,” Kuhle said. “I would drive by, and if I saw him here, I’d stop and ask when he was reopening.”

Alquraisha finally reopened at the end of October. Store hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.

But it wasn’t without difficulty, and Alquraisha said he almost decided not to reopen at all.

“I was very fortunate,” he said. “The city helped a lot, and I had tremendous support from the community. Every time I was at the store, I’d have eight to 10 people stop and ask when we were reopening, or if they could help out in any way.”

A resident from a nearby mobile home park stopped by shortly after the crash to bring Alquraisha diapers, because they knew Alquraisha and his wife recently had a baby.

“I didn’t know how much the community cared,” Alquraisha said.

Because he’s still working through the insurance issues, Alquraisha said he doesn’t have a cost estimate for the damage to the store. However, insurance hasn’t covered everything, he said, so he’s had to make up some of the difference.

And it’s been slow going getting the store back to normal. Some vendors ended agreements with the store while it was closed, Alquraisha said, and it’s taking a while to get them all back on board. There’s also still some work to do on the building itself — some plywood remains over part of the storefront, where new glass is needed.

Despite the few remaining issues, store regulars are happy to have it open again.

Adam Nelson said he stops in often to pick up essentials and snacks. The store’s location is close to a few parks and trails, so Nelson said it’s a good place to stop in before or after spending some time outdoors.

“It’s just convenient,” he said. “You don’t have to deal with a big parking lot or long lines. I couldn’t believe how long it took to reopen. I kept driving by all the time waiting for it to reopen.”

Alquraisha said this most recent crash could turn out to be the best thing that has happened to his store.

“It’s funny,” he said. “I’ve been here 15 years, but it takes a tragedy like this to show you how much people care. It’s brought me closer to the community.”

Columbian Staff Writer