by Mary Kasulaitis
It has something for everyone, our Merc. At least, that’s the goal of the current owners, Mary and Roger Beal and Andrea Morondos. The Merc provides affordable food, produce, meat, fresh bread and pastries, as well as hardware supplies and unique items which you may expect to find in a country grocery store. A Mercantile is supposed to be able to provide everything the community needs, not just groceries. They try to satisfy a clientele that includes large families and single folks, country-types, city-types, people on food stamps and those with gourmet tastes, as well as hunters, tourists, vegetarians, and those who need pesticide-free food. Not an easy task, and a long ways from the fresh beef, beans, coffee and flour that were all the Mercantile once provided.
There has been a store in Arivaca since at least the early 1870s, when Pedro Aguirre made Arivaca a stage stop. Noah W. Bernard, his nephew by marriage, came here in 1877 and became the storekeeper and Postmaster. The town grew and Nonie grew with it. He prospected for mines and established a ranch in partnership with John Bogan. He built a store, in which he sold the beef he raised and became wealthy on the two enterprises. We don’t know exactly when he built his store but it appears in a 1907 photograph taken by Mrs. Leslie Farrell, with Les in the doorway. This building is now Jack Baker’s Double L Feeds. One of the better-known storekeepers was Phil Clarke, who came here in 1906, hired on at the store, learned the trade and then opened his own store at Ruby. The storekeeper usually served as the Postmaster also.
In 1912, Noah was dead, but his ranch was doing well. The Arivaca Land and Cattle Company, made up of his son, Noah C. Bernard, John Bogan, George Pusch, Ramon Ahumada and other partners, was the major ranch in the Arivaca Valley. They decided to build a new store building, east of the older store, on the current location of the Mercantile. In those days, Arivaca was almost a company town and most of the folks in the town worked for the Arivaca Ranch. There were other ranches and plenty of mines, but there was also competition down the road with stores at Oro Blanco and Ruby, besides at the smaller mining camps like the Warsaw, Old Oro Blanco, and Old Glory. In 1916, the Arivaca Land and Cattle Company applied for a federal patent for the town of Arivaca, but the quarter of a quarter section on which the new store sat was (is) not in the townsite, but on the ranch property, despite appearances to the contrary.
From then on, the store kept on doing business and stayed in the hands of the Arivaca ranch owners. Armando Membrila remembered that Cecil Burg and his mom and uncle Ira clerked in the general store there for awhile in the late 20s. He thought it was before the Boices took over because when they took over they brought Herb Mills and his family in. The last one Armando remembered before they left Arivaca was a man named Mr. Poe and his son Alton. He also remembered, “There was a guy from Nogales, he was a Mexican fellow–he did the bookkeeping–a young guy. He couldn’t speak English very well. The general store had two gas pumps with tanks up high and the Gitana bar had one gas pump.”
When the Boice family came here in 1931, the store came with the ranch. A number of folks worked for them as storekeeper, including Bob Grantham, who met Katherine Noon there at the store in 1936. Ernesto Salazar worked here for a number of years in the early 1940s and then moved to Sasabe where he operated a store. Later he and his wife, Flora, opened the Rancher’s Mercantile at Amado. Eva Gonzalez Grimm worked in the post office for awhile when Ernesto had the store.
In 1947 the Boices sold the store to Melvin Hoefle and his wife Minerva. Melvin owned a sheet metal business in Tucson, but had been convinced that Arivaca was an up and coming place in 1947, potentially even an artists’ colony. He and some partners, Edwin Kreitemeyer and his wife Irene, along with Richard Chambers of Tucson planned a Club here, known and actually incorporated in 1947 as the Arivaca Community and Country Club. They renovated the house across the street from the store (now Casino Rural/Helping Hearts), which was included in the sale, and turned it into a club building and gambling house. Its large front rooms and high ceilings seemed more like public rooms, as indeed they had been when that building was a hotel in its earlier days. Eva Grimm remembered going to a dance there. Krietemeyer and his wife worked at the store and Irene was Postmaster. Mr. Krietemeyer came to a sad end when he drank some Clorox. Irene tried to stay on, but after a few months she moved away. After that, Gene Casey was the storekeeper and Postmaster for a while, leasing the store until 1951 when Mr. Hoefle sold the store.
The next owners were Sally and Fred McGinn, who came to Arizona for his health and thought the Arivaca store would be a good investment. Fred wanted to live in the country. They had five children and lived in the building across the street from the Mercantile where they also had Church of Christ services. In those days there was no indoor plumbing. Sally remembers the mirrored bar in the front room that still remained after the exodus of the Hoefles. The McGinns moved to Colorado after only three years here, but their oldest son, Fred, fondly remembers his childhood here with its burros and piñatas, cowboys and horses.
Tony Prevor and Marge and Fred Schwanderlik had come to Tucson from Illinois after World War II for Margie’s health. They’d never had a store before they owned Mexico Way, which was on the Old Nogales Highway. Arivacans like Helen Brouse often stopped by to gas up on the way home. Helen invited them to come down to a dance at Arivaca, and so they did. Margie loved Arivaca right away, and they thought for a while that they might buy La Gitana from the Brouses. That fell through, but about that time the McGinns put the Arivaca Mercantile up for sale. Margie, Fred, and Tony bought it in partnership in 1954. The house was included.
Tony remembered: “The store was quite old fashioned in those days with high shelves in the main room, accessed by a rolling ladder. The other room was devoted to saddles and harnesses, which dated back to who-knows-when. There were even buggy whips! There was no electricity and the iceboxes were run with big butane generators.” They sold a little of everything that people might need: food, hardware, paint, clothing, stationary, dishes, jewelry and even religious goods, but they got rid of the tack. Because of the dirt road to town, people were more inclined to buy things here. In those days the storekeeper was also the Postmaster, and Margie was so appointed. She took that very seriously and even attended Postal conventions.
On January 31, 1956, in the early morning hours, the store (with Post Office) burned down. No one ever determined the actual cause, but it was a crisis at the time. Without missing a beat, they opened the store and Post Office in the front room of Marge’s house across the street. By that same evening, Tony had brought shelves and groceries from Mexico Way. Fred Noon and Gene Casey had retrieved the old Post Office boxes from the abandoned store at Ruby and installed them in Marge’s house. Life went on as usual for the rest of us. Hard work went into the restoration of the store, and Tony rebuilt it, with the help of Joe Pianka and Bill Campas, much as it appears today. All that remains of the old building is one interior wall.
Marge and Fred were divorced in 1956 and Margie kept the Arivaca property. They changed the name of the store to Marge’s Arivaca Mercantile. She and Tony Prevor were married in 1967. Marge’s brother Bill Poznecki with his wife Helen bought the store from the Prevors in 1972 and built the house next door to the east. Their daughter Joan and her husband Bill Anderson ran the store until 1979 when the Minards arrived in town.
Darrell and DeYette Minard were looking for a place to be self-sufficient. They had been living in Payson but it was too cold and rocky, in Darrell’s opinion, for a good garden. One night, DeYette had a dream about a bell ringing. On a map, she saw the shape of a bell, and it seemed to her that Arivaca was where the clapper would be. They took this as a good sign and came down to see what was available in “Arivaca Lakes Estates.” Lakes not withstanding, Darrell decided this would be a good place where his family could be together and he could do some truck farming. At the same time, daughters Andrea Morondos and Mary Beal and their husbands Oly Morondos and Roger Beal were looking for a change in their lives. Things seemed to fall into place. The store was for sale, but the post office was separate by this time. Owning the store would provide a built-in job for several family members. So they all moved here and Andrea and Mary and Mary’s husband Roger Beal began a partnership that has lasted 40 years. (Oly has his own landscaping business) They weren’t storekeepers when they came, although Mary did have a marketing degree. Everybody did have certain expertise that allowed them to work together toward the common goal, that of making the Mercantile into the best store it could be in this place, and also provide an income for themselves. Mary said the very thing that makes this community diverse makes it very difficult to provide something for everyone. Roger said they were forever changing things in an attempt to meet community needs. Andrea and Mary shop here themselves. They weathered economic cycles, kept an eye out for new trends, and at the same time made the Mercantile truly the center of the community, a forum for information and assisting with fund-raising for town organizations. They have all participated in the community in other ways. Andrea and Oly are the mainstays of the Bahai community, Roger has been a pillar of the Fire Department, and what would Halloween be without Mary?
The years rolled on, Darrell and DeYette passed away. But now times have changed. Roger, Mary and Andrea decided to retire and after 40 years there are fresh faces at the Mercantile!
Damon and Hannah Goodmanson and boys Mason and Graham are from Northwestern Minnesota, where Damon worked in the snow and mud of road construction. They came to visit her parents in Benson a couple of years ago, and decided Arizona was for them. Fortuitously, real estate agent Mark Wiley is Damon’s long time good friend. Mark had already been in Arivaca a couple of years so Damon decided to come see him in his new neighborhood. Damon said he loved Arivaca right away. Mark gave him a call when the Mercantile was about to come up for sale so Damon could think about what it would be like to own a general store. By then, they had already moved to Arizona. Once the decision was made, Damon began working in the store so he was already familiar with most everything by the time they took over. December 16, 2019. Hannah is still working as an accountant in Tucson but hopes to be working in the Merc here soon. We hope their tenure in the Mercantile is long and successful.