Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:07 PM on Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Historic Homer building celebrated at gathering

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

More than two dozen people gathered Saturday to share memories of and pay tribute to a building on the corner Main Street and Pioneer Avenue that is three-quarters of a century old. In attendance were members of the Walli family, descendants of the building's former owner; other long-time Homer residents; Holly Cusack-McVeigh, curator of the Pratt Museum; and Kate Mitchell, current owner of the building.

"This building was the hub of activity for so many in our community," said Cusack-McVeigh. "Many of the (Saturday) participants have fond memories of growing up in Ma Walli's Homer Cash Store. One storyteller recalled that stopping by the store after school was a regular daily ritual for schoolchildren who wished to warm up and dry their mittens by the fire before heading home."

The building opened in 1936 with a general store on the main floor and a dance hall on the second floor. It was a branch of the Seldovia Cash Store, owned by Charles D. Sharpe of Seldovia and operated by Ero and Lillian Walli. After Ero's death in 1937, Lillian, known to many as "Ma Walli," continued to operate the store, eventually purchasing it from Sharpe in 1956. In 1966, she told it to Richard and Luned Inglima.

The Inglimas used the building as a grocery store until they built a single-story grocery store immediately to the east. The Cash Store was then converted to warehouse space. In 1993, Ben and Kate Mitchell purchased the building and, in 2002, opened Main Street Mercantile. In 2008, the Mitchells made room for Sweet Berries Cafe, owned by Nancy Deaver. Next week, the store's main floor will become the offices of the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment (see related story, page 1).

Saturday's gathering was the result of discussions between community members and the Pratt Museum.

"The stories, images and objects will inform the Pratt Museum's development and design of the upcoming (Phase II) permanent exhibits for 'People and Place,'" said Cusack-McVeigh.

In addition to the building's history, its location in relation to Main Street offered a reason for keeping it, the Mitchells discovered after purchasing it.

"I remember when they put the street in, they vacated a certain amount of property easements," said Mitchell.

"(The building) sits 17 feet out into the roadway. We could fix it, we could rehab it, but if we'd taken it down, we wouldn't have been able to rebuild."

Saturday Mitchell was reminded of the building's importance to others.

"Some said (the gathering) was 30 years late. Their mom or dad would have loved it," said Mitchell.

"People thanked me for saving it."