Purveyors of the essential in “The Little Town that Could”

New owner Andy Fahlander in front of the Markleeville General Store.

New owner Andy Fahlander in front of the Markleeville General Store.
Lisa Gavon | R-C Alpine Bureau

Cruel winds have blown, and fierce wildfire flames have licked the surrounding ridges, bearing down to threaten the town of Markleeville. Floods have broken bridges, and water and silt have ruled the roadways, closed the highway and isolated the town from the outside world. Local citizens have gone through periods without power and telephone service, and put in extra effort to stay warm and fed. They have shoveled their way through the biggest winter on record, and still have not given up their hope.

Markleeville is “The Little Town that Could.” Whether you were born in this tiny hamlet or made the conscious choice to make it your home, there is an unspoken requirement: you must be of sturdy mountain stock, able to not only survive, but truly thrive in the face of the trials originating from the raw natural world revealing its power. The forces of nature and the seasons run the show here. These are the lands where the Washoe (or Wa She Shu: People of this land) maintained the balance for uncounted generations before the great influx of the gold seekers and pioneers settled in the 1800s.

In the midst of these truths, a hardy band of souls continue to define the future of this unique and strikingly beautiful place. Markleeville Creek creates the spine of the town, and the buildings that delineate its character unfold along both banks. Central to the aesthetic is the Markleeville General Store.

The new owners are “Purveyors of the Essential” and are looking to create a consistent, reliable option for groceries, sundries, wool blankets, and the basics that you need to live. They will also carry handmade leather bags, jewelry, artwork, music, and other items that will enhance your life. Andy Allen-Fahlander and Avery Hellman are a natural fit for Alpine County. After meeting at a folk music concert, they married in 2019. They bought a ranch here before the pandemic, and settled in to get to know not only the mountains and valleys, rivers and lakes, but the people.

The General Store was rebuilt after the fire of 1885 that took most of the town. It was known as Rask’s Butcher Shop then. The 14 inch walls of the cooler room are insulated with sawdust. Additions were made to it in 1890 and again in 1950. Over time, it has also been a soda fountain, service station, and post office, responding to what the times have dictated and local necessities.

“I am finding pieces of glass that melted in that fire,” Andy reports “There have been disasters beyond the scope of imagination, yet the store is still here. There is an ‘intergenerational spirit’ that is palpable. The location has been through a lot, but survived.”

Both musicians, Andy is the one overseeing the day to day operations of the store. “We are strongly committed to the community and continuing traditions,” says Andy,“We are carrying the candy, ice cream to eat on the porch in the summer, and will have fishing licenses and Christmas tree permits available just as it has always been.”

Andy has expanded the fresh produce section and added a lot of organics. He is looking to partner with local farms so seasonal ingredients will be easy to get here. They carry the most delectable bread I have ever eaten, delivered fresh from the Perenn Bakery in Reno.

Born in Concord, Mass., Andy was the only one of his family to venture away from the East Coast. He felt you cannot always lean on standard models, or the common consensus, and need to take risks to be who you are. He worked on farms and developed a deep fascination with planting and growing. He took a job with Weber mandolins in Oregon, finally moving to work as a full time musician in the Bay Area. He ran the garden at Avery’s family ranch in Petaluma. “We are carrying pasture fed lamb from there at the General Store, so it all comes full circle,” Andy says, smiling.

Having an innate understanding of the processes and transformations of the earth itself, he started out studying geology at Colorado College. Like the metamorphism that transforms rocks, however, he moved on to another field. It was an organic transition. ”When you realize the most solid thing we have, rocks, are actually constantly in motion: being changed by pressure, temperature, decomposition, and erosion, this makes the indeterminacy of life become highly apparent.” Philosophy was the natural next choice.

The western mindset opened up a deep potential in him. Rather than continuing to focus on conceptual ideas, he took his philosophical studies and put them to use as “lived experience”. Even as a youth, he had studied guitar and mandolin, and fell into the College Bluegrass Program with ease. He states “It is so simple, yet so studied and complex. The execution has its own personality and can take you to the sublime.”

As musicians, Andy and Avery continue to perform. Last year they put together the Woollystar Music Festival in Alpine County. Tickets for this year’s event are available at the store. For the “Grand Opening” they played with their band, bringing a new level of warmth and interaction not only with the local populace, but visitors as well. So, both the time-honored traditions and the new innovations that honor the sense of community are in place, side-by-side.

Markleeville is indeed fortunate to have far-sighted and respectful individuals take over the reins of such a venerable and historic institution. They are solidly supported by the people who live here, as well as travelers. Andy says, “Our goal is to make your day better, and make things simpler and more enjoyable for everyone,” continuing that, “We are responsive to the needs of our customers. If you have something you would like to see at the store, whether it is a seasoning salt, soap, or special cocktail mixer, let us know.” Andy feels the more connections the better. “ A rural life has different needs, and the General store reflects that.” Hours are 10 am to 6 pm Tuesday through Sunday, and they are closed Mondays.

Whatever challenges the natural world throws at them, Andy and Avery have proven they have the grit to stand up to it. After all, they took on this venture after the hardships created by the Tamarack Fire and settled in right in the middle of the worst winter in my memory. They personify the kind of people who live in “The Little Town that Could.”


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