The Carters were not looking to buy the century-old Azalea general store.
But they were opening an event and wedding venue just down the road from it, and as guests and brides-to-be drove into the tiny town, they would pass the rundown grocery.
Azalea is an unincorporated community along I-5 in Southern Oregon, about halfway between Grants Pass and Roseburg. The population hovers around 250 people.
The core of “downtown Azalea,” if there is such a thing, is the trio of adjacent buildings that make up the post office, the fire department and the Azalea general store.
And for a while, the store was barely hanging on.
Since its construction in 1916, the old store had served as a dance hall, hotel, grocery, gas station, restaurant and community anchor. But over the decades, and through a series of ownership changes, the store and the building fell into disrepair.
“Everybody kept saying, ‘The store’s for sale, you guys should buy it,’” Patti Carter said. “It was so dilapidated. We can’t have people come into this nice venue and drive by this, so it was like, let’s fix it up and get it going.”
Patti and her husband, Tim Carter, purchased the store in December 2017, but the former owners continued to live in the space until 2019.
When the Carters finally got full possession of the building, the back ceiling had collapsed, floors had rotted through, and an entire new septic system was in order.
“People were saying it should have been knocked down,” Tim said. “You go across the country, and you see old farmhouses disappearing and country stores disappearing. We just couldn’t do it. If this went away and we replaced it with a Dollar General, you lose the soul of the community.”
The couple and their adult sons did much of the renovation and restoration themselves. Following a serious remodel, Tim and Patti moved into the upstairs living quarters. They built 1950s-style A-frame shelving for the grocery, opened up the front windows to bring in more sunlight, and painted the entire first floor an airy white and pastel ocean green.
The new Azalea Mountain Store opened in August 2019.
“Being originally from the area, we knew how important it was to have a store as kind of the center of a community,” Tim said. “Without that, you can’t really have a community. We had neighbors that were neighbors, hadn’t seen each other in 20 years. After we opened up the store, now they’ll come down to have coffee together.”
The original building was first built with a dance hall on the second floor and a restaurant downstairs. Within months of opening, Tim said, a fire damaged the dance hall, and the owners decided to rebuild the space as the Canyon Pass Hotel.
“During that time period, there were seven additions in six years, which included the grocery store and the gas station,” he said. “This was the old original (Highway) 99, so this was the main highway, of course, before I-5 came in.”
The 11-room hotel operated until about 1954, when the Osepian family purchased it and moved their large family into the upstairs space. Until 1968, the store also housed the town’s post office, remnants of which are on display today. A row of old post office boxes, with locals’ names still written inside, lines one wall at the front of the store.
“Some of these families are still in the area,” Tim said. “They’ll come in, they’ll have family reunions and stuff like that, and they’ll want to open up the mailbox.”
Today, the walls of the grocery are lined with historic photos of the store and its past owners. It once again serves as a gathering place, with a table and chairs for folks to drink their morning coffee, a small taproom for beers in the evening, and a wine tasting room in the back.
“I’ve known these two since probably third or fourth grade,” said Annette Findlay, who stopped in on a recent Saturday for a few grocery items. “Tim and Patti taking over the store has just been awesome. With the price of gas, I don’t want to spend the money going all the way to Roseburg to get groceries when I can get it right here and give my money to my friends.”
Tim grew up in nearby Glendale, and he and Patti were sweethearts at Glendale High School. They later married and in 2003 moved to Florida, where Tim worked as a financial advisor and Patti was a pilot who ran her own flight school, Voyager Aviation.
After Patti’s mother died, they began making regular trips to Oregon to help out her dad on the family farm.
“It ended up being more intensive than what we anticipated,” Tim said.
In 2018, they took on a new business venture at the farm, turning the red and white wooden barn that had been built by Patti’s father and grandfather in 1974 into Azalea Mountain Venue, a wedding and events space.
Their oldest son, Sam, had just gotten out of the Air Force and their youngest son, Thomas, had recently graduated college. Suddenly, the barn – and later, the store – became a family business.
While the hotel hasn’t returned, last fall the Carters turned two rooms into cozy overnight rentals, available through Airbnb. Travelers can spend the night at the Azalea Mountain Store in a log-lined room with an electric stone fireplace or in an upstairs suite with a clawfoot tub original to the hotel.
The Carters are also planning more events, including concerts and wine tastings, at both the Azalea Mountain Venue and the Azalea Mountain Store.
“This area needed more than an events center,” Patti said. “It needed a viable community place.”
IF YOU GO: The Azalea Mountain Store is at 462 Azalea-Glen Road in Azalea, Oregon. Azalea Mountain Venue is just a 0.3-mile trip south at 245 Forrest Road. The store is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. For more information, visit azaleamountain.com or find the Azalea Mountain Store on Facebook.