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Goodbye, Sherwood 

Massive new Safeway to occupy site of historic Eureka nursery

click to enlarge Debbie Jernigan, left, and Kathy Sherwood in the final days of Sherwood Forest Nursery & Florist. Photo by Heidi Walters.
  • Debbie Jernigan, left, and Kathy Sherwood in the final days of Sherwood Forest Nursery & Florist. Photo by Heidi Walters.

It was one of those sunny afternoons, rare and precious in Eureka-town, when nothing sounded better than to settle into a warm wooden chair in the garden with a clinky-cool cocktail.

But Kathy Sherwood, owner of Sherwood Forest Nursery & Florist on Harris Avenue, and her long-time manager, delivery person and friend Debbie Jernigan, were too busy for the sit-down thing. This particular April afternoon, they were taking their cocktails -- an afternoon tradition here at Sherwood -- standing up behind the counter, or catching sips on the fly as they worked with the steady wander of customers, some nearly in tears, snooping for final bargains or sharing memories or asking how much for the colorful Adirondack chairs grouped companionably between Sherwood's home and the florist shop.

Sorry, Sherwood kept saying, the chairs aren't for sale. She was taking those with her.

But everything else that normally wouldn't be for sale -- even the 100-year-old boat-building barn that's graced the leafy property for what seems forever -- was. And the normal retail items -- the pots of lavender, hydrangea and assorted trees, the bottles of ant spray, and all the other items people buy to furnish their gardens -- were seriously reduced in price. Only cut flowers and floral arrangements were still at full price.

The old place, which Sherwood's mom, Alice, started in 1956, was closing down. And by the end of this year, all signs of the nursery, florist and a separately owned maple and bamboo business on Sherwood's acre and a half, plus several doctors' offices, a couple of houses (occupied by renters) and some apartments on an adjacent nearly five acres, will have vanished. In their place: a sparkling-new, 47,000 square-foot "Lifestyle" Safeway with 83,000 square feet of parking. The new store will outshine its quaint, squat elder across Harris (circa 1961), at 19,000 square feet. Actually, Safeway doesn't talk about customer volumes, said spokesperson Susan Houghton on Tuesday. But Sherwood said she'd been told the old Safeway on Harris "is a high-grossing store." Houghton did say that the old Safeway is for sale. "And we're already getting offers," she said.

Construction on the new store, said Houghton, is set to begin in two months. It'll be much like the remodeled Safeways in Fortuna and McKinleyville, according to a plan submitted to the county community development services department last January by SHN Engineering. It'll have expanded deli, bakery, produce and floral departments, plus a bank, pharmacy, meat and fish counter and, said Houghton, either a Starbucks or a Jamba Juice. The land it will occupy abuts a greenbelt containing a stream and contains other patches of green lushness and trees. According to SHN's report, multiple alders and redwoods, some as big as 72 inches in diameter, will be cut, but native trees and other plants will be planted after construction and a buffer will protect the stream.

According to deeds filed March 15 at the Humboldt County Clerk-Recorder's office, Safeway, Inc. bought seven parcels, owned by five separate parties, on the northeast corner of Harris and Harrison between Walgreens and Eureka Family Practice (but not including those two businesses). While sales prices aren't listed on the deeds and the company won't reveal such things, based on the document transfer tax listed on each deed Safeway paid an estimated total of $3,790,000 for all of the parcels.

An old medical practice building, containing several doctors' practices including that of ob-gyn Deepak Stokes, is on one of the sold parcels; Stokes could not be reached by our deadline. We don't know the fate yet of the other businesses on the sold properties either, except that Sherwood said Bamboo and Maples Nursery, a business owned by someone else on her property, will relocate.

But Sherwood Forest Nursery & Florist is done. Its last day of business was this Tuesday, April 20.

Sherwood, 65, owned the business since 1998, having taken over after her dad, Randy, died. (Her mom died in 1971, the same year her sister Sarah opened the florist part of the business). That sunny Friday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, she mentioned how she'd just been finding it harder to keep the place going. "I'm a victim of the economy," she said. "And when I finally said 'uncle' -- 'I quit' -- to my realtor, he knew Safeway was looking, and within 24 hours Safeway made an offer."

People keep coming in, she said, and saying, "It's the end of an era." They remember when the Sherwoods used to decorate the Eureka Inn's 25-foot Christmas tree every year. They remember how Alice and Randy Sherwood landscaped most of Harrison Avenue and Buhne Street. And they remember, the older customers anyway, some of Randy's quirky sayings. It's like his presence still hovers around the trellises and potted plants. Sherwood and Jernigan, taking a break to sip the diet Squirt and vodka cocktails a friend had made for them, started repeating some of their favorites.

"'Plant it green side up,' he'd say, when someone asked 'How do you plant this?'" said Jernigan.

"People would say, 'What do you plant under a redwood tree?'" said Sherwood. "And he'd say, 'A picnic table.'"

"When they would ask, 'How do you get rid of the weeds?' he'd say, 'Move,'" Jernigan said.

They laughed, sipped their vodka-Squirts.

"And he'd say, at Christmas time, 'If women would spend as much time picking out a husband as they do their Christmas tree, there'd be fewer divorces,'" Jernigan said.

Well, plenty of women (and men) might still find themselves wandering up and down this approximate acreage, torn with shopping indecision, come the new Safeway.  

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Heidi Walters

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Heidi Walters has been a staff writer with the North Coast Journal since 2005.

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