Thanks, Elena

This editor’s note is dedicated to you

By Hilary Berg

In the tiny town of Gaston, Ralph’s “Pretty Good” Grocery stands tall on Highway 47, south of Forest Grove. Signs for The Gaston Market also appear, but it’s the former reference that offers a hint to the store’s colorful personality. 

Besides the quirky placard — fit with a vintage cartoon — the outside seems nothing special, just another rural outpost serving residents, truck drivers and commuters with necessities and food for the road. But, step inside and look around. This place is special and for good reason.

Elena Rasmussen, co-owner of The Gaston Market. ##Photo by Hilary Berg

The shelves are loaded with gourmet food, allergy-sensitive items, especially gluten-free and a proudly curated local wine selection — check out the old, beautifully yellowed newspaper clippings of Elk Cove hanging on the wall. Alongside common brands, find unusual products, including imports such as chocolates, cheeses, olives — with the anchovy in the middle — and local artisan items you recognize and others you’ve yet to discover.

And yet, the grocery itself is not why I wanted to write about The Gaston Market. 

Her name is Elena.

She is part owner with her husband, Jeff Rasmussen, who’s worked at the store his whole life — Ralph was his father.

While you’re there, it’s likely you’ll see Jeff unpacking fresh produce, cutting meat — he’s a skilled butcher — and stocking aisles, among other tasks to keep the 57-year-old market humming. But it’s likely you’ll talk with Elena.

Full of energy, friendly and sincere, she makes you feel right at home the moment you enter. Listen as she chats to customers, including residents but also regulars who became patrons because of the community atmosphere and, I’m not kidding, Elena. She’s seriously a force — for good. A magnet.

When choosing items for this month’s Empourium page, I observed her from the background, witnessing her magic. No matter who came in, she engaged with the person, even speaking fluent Spanish to a man who beamed as she chatted. The next guy in line didn’t even have to say a word before she grabbed his brand of cigarettes and rang him up with a smile. All the while, she’s bouncing back and forth to host me, tearing open delicious items, not thinking twice about wasting inventory.

She went out of her way for me. But, the longer I lingered, roaming the black-and-white checkered floors, marveling at the shelves, I realized she treats everyone that way.

Although she doesn’t know it, she put a smile on my face that lasted most of the day. As I drove away, heading south to Yamhill, it came to me: I want to write Elena a thank-you note for her generosity and hospitality.

Well, you’ve just read it.

Thanks, Elena (and Jeff). The Gaston Market is truly a treasure.

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