The mottled hills and green fields around Picabo seem an unlikely place for a commercial enterprise. The nearest town of any size is Carey (population 300), six miles to the east. The more populous towns of Hailey and Ketchum are half an hour away on a narrow country road.
Picabo itself has a population of about 50. You could throw a rock from the center of town to the Holsteins grazing in nearby pastures.
There is a commercial enterprise in Picabo, though. You see it long before you get to town. It’s an uncertain color, somewhere between red and lavender, and on a clear day it’s visible for miles in every direction. Two words painted in white on one of its walls can be read from half a mile away:
I’ve been in stores from one-room Mom and Pops to stores covering more square yards than a football field, but have never seen anything quite like the general store at Picabo.
If it’s legal, you can get it there.
Hunters will find firearms and ammunition, and with famous Silver Creek nearby the fishing section is formidable. You can get anything from a gray hackle to a pair of chest waders. If you need a hat, sunglasses or sunscreen they have those, too.
Walk half a dozen steps and you’re in the grocery section. The store is a fraction of the size of a typical supermarket, but it sells just about everything that’s sold in supermarkets. It has dry goods, canned foods, produce, pet food, utensils, greeting cards, medicines, detergent, beer, wine, paper products, pastries, you name it. You can buy anything from a fresh pineapple to a can of minced clams to a fly swatter.
Groceries are more or less in the middle of the store. The products in the front of the store are more like what you’d find in a department store – blenders, electric can openers, toaster ovens, deep fryers, electric ice cream makers … In this part of the store, it’s possible to purchase anything from a pair of socks to a carpet shampooer. You can pick up towels for the bathroom, sheets for the bedroom, pottery and glassware for the kitchen, a clock for the living room, knickknacks for the dining room. When you’re finished, you can buy a camera to take a picture of it all.
The back of the store is reserved for harder stuff. You can get a Number 14 bucket there. You can get an edger for your sidewalk or a set of shoes for your horse. Plumbers and electricians will find enough wire, pipe and gadgets to fill a workshop.
Carpenters can buy necessities from hammers and nails to power tools. Gardeners will find tools from pruning shears to lawnmowers. You can pick up a new set of tires for your car, purchase a replacement for your water heater.
The Picabo General Store is the only place I know where you can buy African Violet food, alfalfa seed, panty hose, a chain saw, water chestnuts, a horse bridle, paperback books, a hundred pounds of wheat, a bottle of perfume, a dozen eggs and a load of lumber all in one stop.
While you wait for your lumber to be loaded, you can sit down in one of the two booths at the front of the store and be served a hot sandwich and a soft drink.
On your way out, you can mail a letter (one corner of the store is a post office) and, in parting, fill your gas tank at one of the pumps out front. A person could spend a lifetime within driving distance of the store and, barring medical emergencies, never have to go anywhere else.
The store’s manager and part owner is Gordon Eccles, a fast-talking, no-nonsense businessman with a cluttered desk and a phone that never seems to stop ringing.
Eccles, who answered my questions between long-distance calls and inquires from employees, said Picabo began in the 1880s as a railroad stop and farm center. The name, he said, comes from an Indian word meaning shining waters, most likely a reference to Silver Creek. The store was built in 1952. It serves travelers, but relies mainly on the farm trade.
“There are a lot of stores in out-of-the-way places in this state, but none as diversified as this,” Eccles said. “This is a true general store. We deliver fuel, feed and seed all over the county, and we have regular customers who come from 20 miles or more away.”
I don’t know which would be more unexpected – to find this clearing house for just about everything in the middle of nowhere or to meet a high-powered businessman like Eccles there. Maybe it was just an unusually busy day, but he seemed as if he’d have been more at home on Wall Street.
I didn’t want to take too much of his time, but on the way out the door I thought of one last question and asked if there was anything the store didn’t sell.
He put his calls on hold, thought for about ten seconds and replied affirmatively.
“Yes, come to think of it it there is. We don’t sell cars.”