Gearhart: Sometimes a grocery store can explain a town

Road Journals Blog—Step inside any grocery store, anywhere in the world, and you’ll find a sense of local discovery. This is frequently the best way to get a feel for what people really eat—from unique potted meats to regionally grown fruits to an overabundance of, say, mustard or chocolate or kimchi. As much as I enjoy seeing museums and landmarks, trawling the aisles of local groceries gives me a sneak peek inside the community fridge, an unvarnished look behind the tourist scenes.

In this regard, Gearhart Grocery doesn’t disappoint.


In the rear of the grocery | Amara Holstein

Located smack dab in the middle of Gearhart, at the intersection of Pacific Way and Cottage Avenue, Gearhart Grocery is a nondescript building from the outside, punctuated with color only from some flowering window boxes.

Inside, it’s a different story.

A chalkboard at the entrance proclaims the lunch specials of the day—a mishmash of international culinary styles, from tamale pie to Korean ribs to burrito lasagna. There’s a full wall of wine just beyond the cash registers, brimming with Oregon vintages like a particularly tasty pinot noir from Walnut City Wineworks. Moonstruck Chocolates from Portland nudge up against hazelnut toffees from the Willamette Valley. Instead of a produce aisle, a rear corner looks like a farmstand, with handwritten prices for things like baskets of plump apples and pears.

Because Gearhart is a coastal town often blanketed in fog and drizzle, there are also playing cards, books, and chalk stacked next to sunglasses and t-shirts.


Gearhart Grocery | OCVA/Flickr

But what I found most enticing was the deli counter at the back of the store. Inside a glass case perfectly preserved from the 1950s, everything’s homemade and ready to eat. There are big bowls of rosemary chicken salad, corn-and-black bean salad, and cole slaw. Glistening Willapa Bay oysters and piles of shrimp have been freshly caught. Sandwiches are piled high with meats and veggies, and a homemade brownie makes a perfect dessert complement.

Perhaps hardest to resist are the pies—huckleberry, custard, apple, and raspberry—six or seven of which are baked and hand-delivered warm by a local woman every Wednesday evening to be served throughout the week, although woe betide those late few who show up Tuesday to empty pie plates.

What does all this say about Gearhart?  Seems to me that the grocery perfectly encapsulates the place: a charming seaside town that stays true to its local roots and sense of history, with a nod to upscale offerings and a wink to eccentric global fare.

Note: One caveat for travelers—in early December the owners sold the place to a local developer so change on the shelves is always a possibility.

Amara Holstein wrote about Gearhart for the March/April 2011 Oregon edition of VIA.

This blog post was first published in April 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.