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Shopping for memories

After nearly 50 years, members of Purity Market in Auburn gather to remember the store at 1012 High Street
By: Andrew DiLuccia, Journal Staff Writer
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Back in the 1950s and ’60s, Downtown Auburn was the center of commerce, and Dick Kiger remembers it well. “Back in those days every need you had was filled right here in Downtown,” said Kiger, a longtime Auburn resident. “Four or more drug stores, jewelry stores, clothing stores, auto dealers.” And Kiger should know — from 1954 to 1960 he was the manager of Purity Market, which stood where part of the Auburn Journal is today. Its address back then: 1012 High Street. Recently, Kiger and four other members of his staff from his early years at the Auburn Purity store got together for a reunion after nearly 50 years, drawing some former employees from as far away as Oregon. “It was a little strange (at first). One guy there, Bob Hickman, he pointed at me and said, ‘You were tough on me,’” recalled Jim Williamson, a former assistant manager at Purity, with a laugh. “It’s too bad we didn’t have more of the old crew. It was very nice, very touching actually — we had a good time.” Alex Carranza, who was Purity’s produce manager under Kiger, was happy to see his old co-workers, but also realized it had been a long time. “It was real good (to see the others), by the same token, I can’t believe to see those kids, like Jim Webber, he was just a young kid,” Carranza said. “Now, all of sudden we’re grown up with gray hair.” Purity Market was a chain that featured 120 stores throughout Northern California, according to Kiger, a trouble-shooting manager who went from store to store for the company before landing in Auburn. He took over the iconic 6,500-square-foot Quonset-hut-style building, which was synonymous with Purity stores during their heyday. You can still find some of the buildings Purity occupied throughout Northern California, now taken over by other businesses. “All the basics of the grocery industry were going through there,” said Williamson, who went on to a career with Raley’s, where he became director of merchandising and was on the executive committee. “It was a very old-fashioned type of store — no refrigerated produce, liquor or beer.” However, the store, which also featured left-handed cash registers, according to Williamson, had most everything a citizen of Auburn could need, from eggs to produce and meat. And with such a small store, and a staff of no more than 12, Kiger and the Purity crew treated the customers well, and got them the products they needed. “Plus the customers that were there were good customers,” Williamson said. “They told you all their stories. It was a very close-knit community at that time.” Just down the street, where Granite Community Bank is now located, was a Safeway grocery store. Just as there is today, there were price battles, and Purity always tried to match or beat the other stores’ prices. “They’d send one of us to the other store to find out their prices, and possibly one or two of the items (we’d) try to meet or beat them,” Carranza said. “We didn’t have bar codes, so you had to remember the prices for everything — especially the sale items. We would get quizzed, so we’d know what price to charge people.” Kiger left Purity in 1960 after buying Alpine Market in Colfax. Then in 1965 bought Elder’s Corners at Dry Creek Road and Highway 49, running the establishment for 25 years. As for the other members of the Purity crew who came together recently, each went on to have more success in their careers. Carranza moved on to work at Folsom Prison, where he eventually became procurement officer for the prison. Hickman, who was going to school while working for Purity, went on to work in the technology industry, and according to Kiger, is quite a ballroom dancer. And the last of the reunion members was Jim Webber, who like Hickman, was working part time while going to school. He went on to become undersheriff of Placer County. At the get-together the group shared many memories about the market that once served the community of Auburn and remembered the lessons learned from the store — including one that helped shape their futures. “We all came away with something from Purity, and one thing is we worked hard,” Kiger said. “If you could work hard for Purity, you could work for anyone.” The Journal’s Andrew DiLuccia can be reached at andrewd@goldcountrymedia.com.