J’s Market in Shasta
● By Billy Pilgrim
Old Shasta Strong
By Billy Pilgrim
THE LANDSCAPE HAS CHANGED so dramatically since July 26, the day the Carr Fire roared into Redding. You can really see the impact on Highway 299 west between Buenaventura and Old Shasta. The first time I saw it, it shocked me, took my breath away. The Old Mill House Deli has completely disappeared, and the house across the street where Madeline sold her tie dyes on summer afternoons is gone. Landmarks that we always thought would be there have vanished forever. People’s homes, like the house to the north of 299 just before Old Shasta that had so many windows along its roof line – I admired that home 1,000 times, thought it was the coolest house, now gone.
We were reporting on the Carr Fire that evening on Q97, getting and giving up-to-the-second updates as the firenado swept into Redding and surrounding communities. And we heard J’s Market, the heartbeat of Old Shasta, was gone, too. That was a gut punch, a big one in a day of unspeakable destruction, and news that turned out to be untrue. Miraculously, J’s Market was spared.
J’s Market was started by J. Bennett on March 12, 1967. That beautiful brick building was originally a service and auto repair shop. You know those flowers that grow in front of the store? There used to be gas pumps there. There was a wonderful cafe there, too, called J Birds. And while the gas pumps and cafe are gone, the one constant continues to be the importance of this landmark to the community, a community that is less than half the size it was before the Carr Fire.
Todd Bennett was running the store the morning of July 26. “The town had been evacuated, but things seemed pretty calm that morning. About twelve noon, two spot fires broke out on the hill above us. They were big flames, about 200 feet high, but they got to them pretty quickly. Things seemed OK until about 5:30 when the big one hit.” That’s about the time he heard J’s was gone. “I finally left at 7:30 that night. I had no idea that the town had burned up, and that the fire swept into Redding.” Todd didn’t return to J’s for more than two weeks.
Todd and Lan Bennett have been managing J’s for many years, and one can feel the love they have for the customers who come in for homemade sandwiches, last-minute snacks, beverages and the essentials they may need to bring home for those who still have a home in Old Shasta. You can’t miss the warmth people feel for one another. Everyone knows that they are all in it together, #OldShastaStrong. But there is also an uncertainty about the future, and whether J’s can continue to survive in a community with such a diminished population. Is it possible? Will the residents who lost their homes come back? So many have left with little thought of returning. And so much depends upon people returning to Whiskeytown Lake on weekends.
I asked Todd what his vision of the future is. “I don’t really know. I hope it’s going to be alright. I think things will come back. I just don’t know how long it’s going to take. I wish I did.”
Our county needs J’s to continue – a living, breathing symbol of survival, and a necessary part of our shared history. No one can predict the future, but we can continue to honor the present by stopping by every once in a while and purchasing something from the well-stocked shelves of J’s Market in Old Shasta. It’s been going strong for more than 50 years, and I’m hoping it will be around for another 50. •
J’s Market • 15438 CA-299, Shasta • (530) 243-3080