Monday, December 5, 2022
Dec. 5, 2022

Linkedin Pinterest

The Heisson Store is a family operation

Country store northeast of Battle Ground part of daily life for Heisson community

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
11 Photos
Eric Johnson, left, and Jenell Anderson, right, holding 1-year-old daughter Nora Einarson, own the Heisson Store along with Gionni Johnson, Eric's wife and Anderson's mother.
Eric Johnson, left, and Jenell Anderson, right, holding 1-year-old daughter Nora Einarson, own the Heisson Store along with Gionni Johnson, Eric's wife and Anderson's mother. They bought the store in 2011 and run it as "a family operation," Eric said. Photo Gallery

BATTLE GROUND — In some areas of Clark County, residents could drive an hour before reaching a supermarket. What happens when they run out of cream for their coffee? Or don’t have hamburger buns for their spur-of-the-moment backyard barbecue? Or need lettuce for a sandwich? They could milk a cow, bake their own buns or get greens from their garden (if it’s in season). Aside from that, the closest option is a country store, an essential element of life in Clark County’s less-populated places.

For more than a century, the Heisson Store has served the area northeast of Battle Ground. The store and the community are namesakes of 1866 homesteader Alexander Heisen, though the spelling became Heisson due to a clerical error. The store was built in 1907 and supplied basic goods to nearby residents, mostly sawmill workers and their families, as well as serving as the local post office. The Heisson store is no longer a post office (a change that has irked some customers) but it’s still a feature of daily life for folks in the area.

“My kids and I love going there as much as we can,” said a Yelp reviewer in 2020. “They have a real neat supply of different kinds of candy, drinks and food; stuff you wouldn’t find at a mainstream grocery store.”

“I love this store,” posted another customer in 2019. “This is what it means to have a true little country store. You can find almost anything you want and the service is warm and friendly.”

The store, a small, white building on Northeast 279th Street near a disused portion of the historic Chelatchie Prairie Railroad, is relied upon by nearby residents, especially during snowstorms or other inclement weather. The store’s unassuming presence, however, might not immediately turn the heads of newcomers or backroad day-trippers.

“Once a week I hear, ‘Oh, I’ve never been in here!’ even though the store has been here for a hundred years,” said Jenell Anderson, who owns the store along with her parents, Eric and Gionni Johnson. “I give them a tour. It’s a tiny store but we have a lot of stuff.”

The store’s previous owners, Chris and Tina Lusk, hired Anderson’s mother, Gionni, in 2008. Gionni had been working weekends for about three years when the Lusks mentioned selling the store. Gionni said she and Eric hadn’t even considered buying it before then, but it seemed like a good family enterprise. Eric saw it as his way out of a 20-year trucking career that would allow him to spend more time at home than on the road.

The store opened under new management on Halloween of 2011, although Eric Johnson kept trucking for a year before quitting. The Johnsons and Anderson didn’t make radical changes. They kept the same suppliers, Anderson said, and continued the Lusks’ contract with the Post Office, but eventually decided that mailboxes took up valuable square footage.

“We still have those people that are mad with us and don’t shop with us,” Anderson said, “but it was a better option for us to have more room in the store and serve customers.”

The Heisson Store offers a range of basic items like soap, shampoo and cereal. Fresh items, including meat, are sourced locally whenever possible, and Gionni hand-grinds the burger. The pepperoni is a real favorite, Anderson said. It’s produced locally but Eric prefers not to reveal the source because it’s such a popular item and keeps customers coming back. The store sells beer and wine but no hard liquor. The store also carries some locally made products, like honey from Windy Ridge Tree Farm in Amboy. Customers can also buy the board games Redneck Life and Trailer Park Wars, co-designed by Yacolt resident Lisa Bowman-Steenson.

“People come in all the time and say, ‘Oh, I didn’t think you’d have this,’ ” Gionni Johnson said. “We have a large variety of groceries. We probably have a lot more than people expect. Jenell has a rack of used clothes. We have a lot of toys. People will come in and get birthday presents for kids.”

Battle Ground’s recent development boom hasn’t resulted in broad product changes or price hikes, although inflation has definitely affected the cost of groceries, especially staples like milk and eggs, Gionni Johnson said. The biggest changes are in response to the pandemic’s continuing supply-chain problems. Many items are harder to get and keep in stock, Anderson said, but she and her parents do whatever they can to keep customers happy, like offering vegan, gluten-free or dairy-free items.

“Most of the time, we have what people are looking for,” Gionni Johnson said. “If we don’t have something and somebody requests it, we’ll get it in.”

It’s personal touches like this that make family ownership meaningful. Eric Johnson said that the store is strictly “a family operation” and it’s the three of them at the register seven days a week that makes it work. There are no other employees, though Eric’s disabled adult son, Kyle, is often behind the counter with his mother or father. Anderson mused that her parents, as they get older, might eventually need somebody to cover for them, but for right now, there are no plans to add staff.

“We’re definitely not in it for the money,” Anderson said, noting that the old building frequently needs repairs or updates. The store finally got a paved parking lot last month, and it’s just had a fresh coat of exterior paint. Gionni Johnson said she’d especially like to improve the air conditioning because it gets warm in the store on hot days. Then there are the costs of maintaining temperamental equipment like refrigerated cases, not to mention permitting and regulatory issues that are like “money blowing out the door,” Eric Johnson said.

Heisson Store

Where: 17510 N.E. 279th St., Battle Ground

Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

Contact: 360-687-2008, www.facebook.com/HeissonStore/

The rewards of owning the Heisson Store have more to do with its close ties to the community. Among the Heisson Store’s recent Facebook posts are details about a local kid’s lemonade stand and photos of a lost dog that wandered by the store. (It was later claimed by neighbors.) All three owners keep steady schedules, so they see the same faces, week in and week out, sometimes for years. Gionni Johnson said one of her favorite things has been watching the kids from the nearby Old Apostolic Lutheran Church grow up.

“You see someone five days a week, you get to know about them,” Anderson said. “It’s nice to know about their kids or their dogs. If they have health problems, you learn about them. It’s like a bartender without the open drinks. Or a priest.”

Eric Johnson is known for his outspoken views but these days he “tries not to meddle,” he said. However, it’s hard to avoid being drawn into the goings-on of regular customers, some of whom he’s known for decades.

“I get asked lots of questions and there are times when you go ‘Dang!’ because you’re pretty involved with a lot of people,” he said. “I mean, you consider them friends.”

Do Eric and Gionni Johnson intend to retire anytime soon? That’s the dream, Eric said, but the likely reality is that he and his family will stay behind the register as long as they can. Eric said that he values the independence that the store gives him, in spite of the challenges of ownership.

“I made it so far, so I think we’re going to be good,” Eric says. “I had to drive a truck for 20 years so I missed my children growing up. I get to spend all that time with my grandchildren now. I get to be with my grandkids and have a really nice life.”

Loading...