By Tim Tesconi
Photo by Steven Knudsen
For 100 years Bosworth & Son General Merchandise in Geyserville has been the place where townsfolk stop for a sack of grain or a bit of gossip, sometimes both, and never leave disappointed.
This year the Bosworth general store moves into its second century as an anchor on Geyserville’s main street and as the heart and soul of the tiny town in northern Sonoma County. Little has changed at the old store since it was founded in 1911 by Maine pioneer George Bosworth, the grandfather of present day proprietor Harry Bosworth, who at 73 is a grandfather himself.
Saddles still hang from the ceiling, farm implements are propped against the walls and bins of nails stretch across wooden floors as old and creaky as grandma’s rocker. The front window promises paint, tack, feed, hardware, grain and “cigarettes and tobacco.” It’s a convenience store for the country crowd - the rural landowners, ranchers, backyard farmers, cowboys and wannabe cowboys who inhabit the area around Geyserville.
The store, like its proprietor, is a link to a time when prunes and pears were the main crops around Geyserville and vast flocks of sheep grazed in the surrounding hills. The orchards have been replaced by world class vineyards and the sheep devoured by coyotes. The family milk cow is gone but fancy Quarter horses take Old Bossie’s place in the pasture.
The store once served farmers and ranchers but now German and Italian tourists try on the Stetson cowboy hats that are stacked on shelves by the front door and Wine Country day-trippers from San Francisco buy local honey, toy tractors or Western wear. Area residents pop in for light bulbs, bolts or a piece of pipe, hanging around to swap stories and catch up on the news not generally printed in newspapers.
Bosworth and his wife Karen, institutions in this small town, are the welcoming merchants as this old-fashioned emporium, which has stubbornly resisted change and, by keeping its character, is now country cool.
“The store has become a museum piece because we have kept it like it was in the old days,” said Harry Bosworth, a longtime member of Sonoma County Farm Bureau. He proudly has a sign proclaiming his Farm Bureau membership in the store window.
The building the store has occupied for 100 years was purchased by Bosworth’s grandfather in the early 1900s. It once housed a buggy shop, a tinsmith and an undertaker’s parlor, which did a thriving business selling caskets for the dead who would be buried in the cemetery owned by the Bosworth family.
Bosworth said the family store may continue with little change for at least another generation because his daughters, Gretchen Crebs of Geyserville and Rachel Prat of Healdsburg, are committed to keeping the historic store in the family. Gretchen works in the store on Mondays and helps out with the other family businesses. Bosworth said he does not plan to retire anytime soon but looks forward to gradually transitioning the businesses to the next generation.
Bosworth, a fourth generation Sonoma County resident, serves as the unofficial mayor of the unincorporated town. He is on the board of the Geyserville Fire Department, Odd Fellows Hall and Geyserville Chamber of Commerce. He is treasurer and a 45 year member of the Kiwanis Club.
Bosworth also owns the Geyserville Water Co, which serves 320 people, and the town cemetery, Olive Hill Cemetery, a 10-acre burial ground with about 1,000 graves. Three of his great grandfathers are buried there.
Last year, he said, there were four burials at the rural cemetery, down from the 20 burials that occur most years. He said the combination of the three businesses – plus his 15 acre cabernet sauvignon vineyard that supplies grapes to Silver Oak Cellars – keeps him going financially.
“If I just had to live on the revenues from the store alone it would be slim pickins,” said Bosworth. He notes that his customers are a mix of local residents and Wine Country tourists.
“This area is getting more touristy,” Bosworth said. “During the week days the customers are primarily local residents but starting Friday afternoon and all day Saturday 90 percent of the customers are tourists.”
Bosworth, who traces his Sonoma County roots to 1857, grew up in Geyserville. Except for a stint in the Army that took him as far as El Paso, Texas he has never left town. He never wanted to if the truth be known.
“I never had enough money for a bus ticket out of here,” jokes Bosworth. “And these days I only travel as far south as Windsor.” Bosworth at one time served as the ticket agent for the Greyhound Bus passing through Geyserville. Nowadays, the UPS driver often leaves packages at Bosworth’s store for people who live in remote areas in the hills around Geyserville.
Bosworth said he just fell into the routine of the small town and the family businesses. When he returned from the Army he started an electronics repair shop and ran a hardware store before taking over Bosworth & Son General Store from his father.
In 1967 he married Karen, the daughter of a Healdsburg doctor. She graduated from the University of the Pacific and worked in the medical field including eight years as a clinical scientist for the Healdsburg General Hospital. She volunteers at health clinics and, like her husband, is a stalwart volunteer in the Geyserville community. She has served five terms on the Sonoma County Board of Education.
Like many folks immersed in small town life and rural living, Bosworth is completely content with his corner of the world and holding the reins of the family businesses. He lives a mile from the store and doesn’t have to deal with two hour commutes, traffic jams, corporate rules or a snarky boss. He’s got two draft horses, two mules and a wagon, which keeps him connected to his pioneer roots. And he knows just about anyone and everyone in and around Geyserville.
“I never looked back and wished I had done anything differently,” said Bosworth. “It’s a nice lifestyle that is free of hustle and bustle.”