Country Store Philosopher

January/February 1999

Reading time min

Country Store Philosopher

Photo: Rod Searcey

The throaty twang of country singer Ricky Skaggs tumbles out of speakers sitting on a shelf above a row of liquor bottles. Next to the bar, customers roam several aisles of food and Western gear. A few regulars relax at the tables and overstuffed chairs, where they trade tips on fertilizers and tractor engines. Part bar, part café and part Western emporium, the San Gregorio General Store is a community hang-out set among pumpkin fields a mile from the Pacific Ocean and just 30 minutes from the frenzied traffic of California’s Highway 280.

Presiding over this 110-year old rural enterprise is George Cattermole, an environmental activist, who taught Structured Liberal Education at Stanford for 10 years, until 1992. Cattermole, who took over the store in 1978, has retained its rustic charm, but also made sure the store embodies his own philosophical and environmental sensibilities.

He has always felt a strong connection to the store just south of Half Moon Bay along Highway 84, in the town of San Gregorio.

“As a student I would drive by this place, come in now and then. I love this area, the sea,” Cattermole says. “I never had any idea I could buy this because I didn’t have any money. But we had bought an old house, fixed it up, and it tripled in value. We bought the house next door, fixed it up, and it tripled in value. So we had the money.”

Cattermole purchased the store with his wife, Joey Jacobs, ’68, JD ’72, and has shaped it in his own image, stocking the shelves with books of Beat poetry, Australian raincoats, organic gourds, Beanie Babies and fine wine, along with practical Western gear like kerosene lanterns and red long-johns. “I’m always sort of in the land between knickknacks, pink elephants and art objects,” he says.

On weekends, farmers, bikers, tourists and environmentalists crowd the store to hear foot-stomping folk and bluegrass bands. “People magnetize toward him and do good things for each other and for the environment,” says Jim Brunberg, whose band, Box Set, frequently plays at the store. “He’s created a hub, a community of people down there in San Gregorio.”

Since giving up home renovation, Cattermole has poured his energy into trying to save the habitat of endangered species, a crusade he began 15 years ago. The San Francisco garter snake, the California red-legged frog and the steelhead trout top his list. He also teaches environmentalism at the College of Notre Dame and is part of a coalition fighting development of the coastline.

The store serves as an operations base for his environmental campaign. He peddles a CD collection that benefits his two nonprofit organizations, the Coastside Habitat Coalition and the San Gregorio Environmental Resource Center. San Gregorio may be rural and slow-paced, but Cattermole is anything but.

-- Kelly Young, ’99

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