Store in Bovina turns 100 years-old this year and the community institution is still going strong, providing a much-needed service to its customers.
The presence of Russell’s dates back to at least 1919 when Cecil Russell became the proprietor of the store on New Year’s Day. Russell’s Store would remain in the Russell family for the next 81 years, with Cecil, his wife Isabel and eventually their daughter Marjorie running operations up until the end of the century. When Marjorie passed away on New Year’s Day of 2000, she left the store to the Bovina Historical Society (BHS) who has been the official caretaker since.
Since 2006, the BHS has partnered with the newest proprietor of Russell’s Store, Bea Sohni. While Sohni has evolved the store in her own way, serving up coffee and freshly made breakfast and lunch options, she has done her best to maintain the feel of Russell’s as that of a true community hub. Talking to those in Bovina, the store has always held more importance than simply a place to buy groceries and other necessities. Russell’s Store has always functioned as a meeting place, where neighbors and friends could meet up and share what’s new around town and in their lives.
“I’ve been here 10 years. I feel that if Russell’s wasn’t here, there would be a big gap in the relationships in this town. Everyone comes here. Locals, weekenders, you name it. It’s a comfortable place for everybody. I always wanted it like that. It’s a really welcoming place. I felt that the day I walked in,” Sohni said.
Bovina Town Historian Ray LaFever, who worked at Russell’s Store from the late ‘60’s through most of the ‘70s, spoke to the News about his experiences at the store and what still makes Russell’s so important.
Where people meet
“People came in just to catch up on stuff. It was amazing how much information you could get in a short little time there,” he said, “It definitely still has that feel today. That’s one of the things that’s nice about having it as an operating store,” LaFever said, noting that there had been talks of turning Russell’s into a museum at one point. “It really pays tribute to the Russells by having it as an operating store and people can go have a cup of coffee and catch up on what’s going on. It’s nice it’s able to continue.”
LaFever talked about how Russell’s Store originally catered mostly to farmers who could pay on credit until their milk checks came in. The store carried groceries, in addition to the simple work clothes a farmer would need. It also carried school supplies, sewing supplies, and some items one might find in a hardware shop like handles to various kinds of axes and hammers. LaFever noted that the Russells may have in fact sold more items in earlier times but were likely influenced by the popularity of automobiles as Bovina residents were more regularly able to get to Delhi.
“For 81 years, the same family had this store in Bovina that became a Bovina institution and still is. It’s still called Russell’s and part of that is honoring the people who owned the store the longest,” LaFever said, “I look back and realize what an incredible privilege it was to work there.”