In February 1984, Jan Adrian Suh embarked on a new venture, establishing Truckee Variety Co., which grew into a cherished haven of nostalgia in downtown Truckee. Nestled between Kalifornia Jean Bar and the Cooking Gallery, this timeless store has been an integral part of the community for four decades, marking its 40th anniversary this month.
When stepping inside, shoppers are instantly transported to a bygone era where penny candy and coveted stuffed animals were treasures found in aisles, not a click away with overnight shipping. And beyond shelves brimming with vintage and modern treasures, Suh’s personal collection of antique toys, bikes and collectibles graces the store’s perimeter. This compilation is so remarkable that just months ago, a customer inquired about purchasing the entire lot.
Despite recently selling the business to her husband’s cousin, Suh was determined to keep the collection in her old shop. And although she no longer owns the business, she feels a responsibility to the residents and visitors of Truckee to keep the store as she has for the past 40 years, and so she sold the business to a family member she trusts.
The building we now know as Truckee Variety Co. has seen many iterations during its tenure in downtown Truckee. First constructed in the early 1880s, the one-story brick building was initially home to a saloon. Around 1890, a barbershop was added and eight years later the space became a drug store. Truckee doctor William Curless saw patients here during the 1890s, and another drug store operated there for nearly 40 years before becoming a saloon once again. After that, the building housed a cafe in the mid-1930s before changing hands and becoming a variety-drug store of sorts.
There is a small, cracked tile near the entrance to the building bearing the name I.V. Whitley, who Suh believes to have been the building’s original owner. Truckee lore has it that he split the building for his daughters, who did not get along.
When Suh moved to Truckee from San Jose, she initially planned to stay for just a summer, but found herself captivated by the community and knew she wanted to make it home. She remembers there were limited retail options in downtown Truckee at that time, and having worked at a deli and Cabona’s, she decided she wanted to own a shop on the main drag.
Serendipity smiled upon her when Truckee Variety, a drug store and household goods-oriented shop, came up for sale in 1984. “We added ‘Co.,’ or Company, to make it sound more old-timey,” Suh said. She had two business partners at first but bought them out within 10 years.
During those early years, Suh relied on instinct and advice from her distributors to fill the shop’s shelves. In its first year of operation, Suh recalls one distributor recommending she stock small Garfield stuffed animals with suction cups on the hands and feet. Skeptical at first, she trusted him and ended up selling hundreds of that season’s hottest toy.
In the mid 1990s, the store experienced significant success, prompting Suh to purchase the building. This ownership allowed her to undertake necessary upgrades, including an addition in 2000 that now houses the clothing section of the shop and an upstairs office.
Truckee Variety Co. hasn’t only enjoyed early Garfield success, but also weathered the ebb and flow of countless fads from Hot Wheels, Beanie Babies, and Barbie to Squishmallows and fidget spinners. However, one constant remains: when people vacation in Truckee, they seek to spend their evenings at home after a day outside, engaging in quality family time with puzzles or board games.
This was the reason the store experienced one of its best sales years during the challenges of Covid-19. Suh attributes this success to the store’s ability to adapt. “I didn’t really skip a beat too much,” she said of the business pivoting to contactless sales of everything in the store, especially puzzles and board games.
Changes in Truckee didn’t just happen during Covid-19, and Suh has seen Truckee evolve quite a bit since she first bought the shwop in the early 1980s. In those first few years, she worked at the store by herself on weekends. As time went on, she had to hire more employees and became a go-to employer for teens.
“I think I had hundreds of local high school students work at the store over the years, and they always touched my heart,” Suh said. “Kids would stay here for 10 years.” She even recalls hiring all four kids from one family to work at Truckee Variety Co.
In fact, until recently, high school students made up the majority of her employees. Things are different now, and staffing troubles were one reason Jan first put the store on the market three years ago.
Thankfully, Truckee Variety Co. has always been a family business of sorts. Jan’s husband, Su Yong Suh, is her biggest supporter. Originally from Korea, Su came to Carson City with his family when he was 6 and owned many successful dry cleaners in Truckee and Reno.
Su’s family and friends live in Reno and started commuting to Truckee to help out when Jan experienced staffing problems. “Without his friends and family, I couldn’t have made it because I couldn’t find anybody up here to work at the store,” Jan said.
And because Jan’s family was already working at the store, it made for an easy, yet still emotional, sale to her husband’s cousin, Chang Suh, on Nov. 1, 2023. Jan retained ownership of the building.
“I felt a responsibility to the town,” Jan said, ensuring she had left the store in good hands. “I had originally listed it with a broker, and he had me put a sign in the window. Then people were coming in and crying and saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re selling,’ and that was hard.”
Yet, according to Jan, Chang says he wants to do everything she did, just with updated technology and a new point-of-sales system — two things Jan admits were not her favorite part of the job.
As she passes the baton to Chang, the story of Truckee Variety Co. continues. “I feel like the luckiest girl in the world,” Jan says, tearing up and talking about her time owning Truckee Variety Co. “I love Truckee so much.”
~ Ally Gravina is a freelance journalist and former Moonshine editor based in Graeagle. She has a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in arts and culture reporting.