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A New Look for Donner’s Old Corner Store

Donner Lake’s Sticks Market
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Todd Wright had his eye on the Donner Pines Market for a long time. Twelve years, to be exact, the amount of time his family has owned a cabin at Donner Lake. “A diamond in the rough” is what Wright called the old store. So when Wright learned the market was for sale, he made his move, buying it in May this year. After a complete remodel, he reopened the store on June 15 as Sticks Market.

Sticks Market is not the same old Donner Pines Market with an updated look and new name. Wright, who worked for Albertsons for 20 years and Pay ‘N Save Grocery for four years, is striving to create a more upscale neighborhood store, a place where Donner Lake residents can buy everything from organic produce to quality dinner items to flip-flops, and all at a fair price.

After purchasing Donner Pines, Wright closed the store for six weeks to remodel it. He gutted the interior, adding granite countertops, pine slabs, exposed ceilings, and corrugated steel for a modern mountain feel.

“We are trying to keep it rustic and old, but new,” said Wright, who moved to Glenshire from Lincoln with his wife and two kids after buying the store.

Wright named the store after his best friend, Ty McNamara, whose tall and lanky frame earned him the nickname “Stick Man.” McNamara died from a rare cancer two years agoin Hawaii, where he had lived for 16 years. The Sticks logo, which features a stick figure doing the “hang loose” sign, is a tribute to McNamara.

An even bigger change from the old market is what’s on the shelves. While Donner Pines Market may have offered locals a service, “variety was poor,” said Wright. “It was a typical old-school lake market — a little rough around the edges.”

There’s nothing rough about the items that Sticks carries. With its focus on healthy and high-end foods, you can find specialty cheeses, gourmet crackers, tri-tip, and organic dairy and produce. In fact, after customers asked for more organic fruits and vegetables, Wright responded. He says 90 percent of the store’s produce is now organic.

“We are really putting our arms around organics,” he said. “We are like a little mini Whole Foods.”

Wright is also focused on carrying local brands, including Truckee Bagel Company, Truckee Sourdough, Tahoe Teas, Treat Box Bakery, Tahoe Creamery, Dorinda’s Chocolates, and Tahoe Naturals Handcrafted Soaps. The new espresso bar uses Alpen Sierra Coffee, and the revamped deli offers sandwiches, salads, and sliced meats (including Boar’s Head meats) and cheeses.

Sticks also has a large beer and wine selection, and is making a name for itself as the go-to place for craft beers, including FiftyFifty Brewing Co.’s hard-to-find Belgian strong dark ale, Concentrated Evil. The wines come in a range of prices, from a $23.99 bottle of DeLoach merlot to a $4.99 Sutter Home chardonnay.

“People try to call me a liquor store, but no,” Wright said. “There is no store like this in Truckee.”

But don’t think Sticks is just catering to the hoity-toity, organics-only set. You can still find everything you want in a corner store at Sticks, including Jell-O, Velveeta cheese, hot dogs, Tylenol, and fishing bait.

“We’ve covered all the basic necessities and added extra stuff to it,” Wright said. “Our philosophy is to try to keep pricing in line with Safeway and Save Mart so locals don’t have to go to town.”

Donner Lake resident Logan Knutzen has frequented Sticks Market about six times this summer. He likes the store’s boutique beer selection and organic produce.

“The old place was very traditional Donner Lake; it was like a camp store. It was a get-some-PBR-and-chips kind of place,” he said. “The new one is more upper end, but not a rip off. They have really good quality stuff — the handmade corn tortillas are the best I’ve ever had.”

Knutzen thinks other neighborhoods would benefit from a Sticks Market.

“Every neighborhood should have a community market, in my opinion,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest things lacking in American culture. It’s nice to walk a block or two and get everything from apples to cheese to wine.”

With Wright’s plan to eventually expand to 10 other locations in “pocket areas” around Truckee/Tahoe, Knutzen just might get his wish.

“I like unique locations where we are not trying to compete with Safeway,” Wright said. “My goal is to provide local areas with what they need.”

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February 14, 2019