Lone store for Gerlach and Empire in limbo
By Jaclyn O'Malley â€¢ firstname.lastname@example.org
â€¢ October 12, 2008
The fate of the lone grocery store serving the northern Washoe County towns of Empire and Gerlach is up in the air after a legal battle between the owner and former manager left the business closed indefinitely and without stock or equipment left to keep food fresh.
For years, the Empire Distributing Company on Nevada State Route 447 has been the only source for milk, bread and medicine for the area's 550 residents.
It's also been the last stop for necessities for Burning Man participants on their way to the Black Rock Desert.
Empire is about 7 miles south of Gerlach, and both towns have few services beyond a post office, schools and a gas station.
The grocery store recently closed after a lengthy legal dispute between 83-year-old owner Donald Marks and the store's former manager, Donald Lawson.
Lawson moved out earlier this month and took everything out of the store, claiming he owned it and had purchased the equipment from Marks.
Marks said Lawson was
merely leasing the business. Marks said he owns all of the equipment in the store, which he said he has owned since 1985.
U.S. Gypsum Company Plant owns the property where the store, a gas station and a home are located.
A recent court order required Lawson to vacate the store. Lawson said he left because he allowed the purchase agreement he had with Marks to expire.
The legal wrangling has left residents worried they will have to take all-day trips just to get basic groceries. The closest grocery stores are in Fernley or the Reno-Sparks area.
"It's really sad," said Jennifer Thompson, who is married with two children ages 10 and 13. "We've lived in Empire
14 years, and now where are we going to go just to get bread, milk and medicine? It's a two-hour drive just to get to Reno.
Marks said he would like to revive the business, but he doesn't have enough money to sustain it. The business never earned much money, he said.
"This is really a disaster for the community," Marks said. "There's no bread or milk now, and there's kids living up here. There are retired people with no transportation.
"I don't know what to do," he said. "You've never seen such a mess."
Sherry Anderson has lived in Empire for 35 years and went
to the store every couple of weeks, and liked the dinner specials offered, such as pizza and tacos.
"Now I have to plan better for milk and eggs, stuff that's fresh," she said.
Anderson said she travels to Reno and shops at Wal-Mart, Winco and Costco.
"I buy a lot at once," she said. "It's a two-hour, one-way trip, so it takes all day to get groceries. It's going to be a big hassle with winter and the gas prices. I really hope their doors open back up."
Chuck Duffy of Gerlach routinely makes shopping trips to Reno every couple weeks to stock up and said he didn't use the Empire store that often.
Duffy said it was a convenient place to buy hunting permits, and it also had tourist items.
"It's just devastating," said Marks' granddaughter, Amy Wick of Reno, who worked summers at the store when she was younger.
"Two weeks ago, it was a running store, and today it's gutted and we can't even attempt to use it," she said.