A fire last Thursday that severely damaged an East End Road landmark, the Fritz Creek General Store, spurred memories of the building that has long played a part in Fritz Creek community culture. From its construction in the early 1950s, it has been not just a convenience store, but also a place to meet for political clubs, holiday events, dances and wedding receptions. It also served as the Fritz Creek federal post office facility.
Within one day of the fire, the Facebook group Kenai Peninsula History had received many posts of memories from the site starting from when it was first constructed. Another local Facebook group, Homer Communications, had more than sixty offers for voluntary reconstruction of the site as well as hundreds of awknowledgements without comment.
Jane Middleton, part of an East End Road pioneer family, provided a chapter on the history of Fritz Creek to the Kenai Peninsula Historical Association’s 2009 publication “Snapshots at Statehood: A Focus on Communities that Became the Kenai Peninsula Borough.” According to her chapter, “In 1954 the Baier family donated two acres of land for a Fritz Creek Civic and Social Center to be a family-oriented place where musicians could play, and people could dance away from the bar scenes in Homer.”
Longtime Homer resident Larry Smith described features of the building design and construction in an email to the News.
“(It’s) an unusual building. The walls were stockade style logs and the trusses were the best I know of,” he wrote. “Professional carpenters Cap King and Lee Cole were said to have made those with great cross-dimensional design.”
Middleton’s piece also provides information on the building.
“Al Greer and many other volunteers designed and built the large log building, using logs from Cap King’s mill,” she wrote. “The attractive design still receives a lot of comment because the logs are placed vertically. According to one source, they settled on this form because the spruce trees in the area were relatively short … that presented a challenge when constructing buildings … with horizontally placed logs.”
Homer’s Sunrise Sjoberg, a member of the Kilcher family, shared some of her memories of the facility when it operated as a community hall and how it changed over time.
“My earliest memory of the Community Hall is learning to dance,” she said. “I remember standing on my father’s feet as we danced around. It was the local gathering place — it was our social life. It was what made the place special. I remember mostly the square dances and singing ‘Oh, Johnny, oh.’ We learned dances called ‘The Mormon Schottise,’ ‘Put Your Little Foot’ and ‘The Lily Marlene.’ I remember Ben Walters carrying his base fiddle on a sled down the hill and somebody else played a violin.”
“The Deitz brothers, Bud and Ray — it was always fun as a little girl to get to dance with one of those guys. People would bring food—there was a little corner over where the kitchen is now. There were a few stools over there. I remember doing a 4H project in there, how to prepare radishes for market,” Sjoberg added.
“After the earthquake in 1964, they had to do some reconstruction and put a new foundation under the building. Karly Baier owned the property and after that it really wasn’t so much of a community thing because it was on his property,” Sjoberg said.
At some point, the Baiers closed the community center. For awhile it was available to rent for various events like weddings and political rallies.
Brad and Barbara Gamble bought the store in 1982 and Brad Gamble’s father bought the post office contract.
“I remember having Girl Scout camp in that building at some point,” Barbara Gamble said.
The purchase by the Gambles meant more remodeling of the Fritz Creek General Store.
“We had to clean the whole building out and rewire it,” Brad Gamble said. “We had to level it and get the foundation back in place and then Bill Slater and I built in the post office. I think it officially opened on May 16, 1983.”
The Gambles ran the building for abouty 10 years. They moved the gas pumps to the store side of the street.
“Gas at that time was full-service, not self-serve. I’d go out and wash the windows, check the air, check the oil, the whole 9-yards,” Brad Gamble said.
“At first we just had a few candy bars in there. We were mostly running it as the post office,” Barbara Gamble said. “Then we bought some long shelves to start fill with other groceries.”
Eventually the Gambles installed another small building by the pumps and started to sell larger gear and animal feed. For a couple seasons they also operated a fall tire-change business.
Longtime Homer resident Louie Flora also shared his memories.
“The store was a community hub of great importance,” he said. “Growing up way out East End in the ‘80s it was our town away from town — a place to rent Betamax movies, buy ice cream, Three Musketeers, Bit o’ Honey and candy cigarettes. While these culinary delights later were traded for brisket sandwiches, beet salad and smoked duck noodles, the heart of the matter remains: this place was one of those special locations in the world one was always excited to go to.”
The Gambles sold the business to Will and Marge Tillion in about 1994. The Tillions then sold it to Lisa and Tiny Nolan who owned the Homestead Restaurant at that point. The property is currently owned by Diana Carbonell and Sean Maryott.
Maryott did not have any comments on future plans for the property at this time.