In an industrial warehouse of corrugated metal tucked at the end of Mill Street, just before the freeway overpass, Wright’s Feed Store resides in a past-meets-present jumble of hay, animal food and clothing in protective coverings laced with dust.
Farm and ranch goods are displayed outside on pallets moved to and fro daily and include feeders and galvanized troughs.
Inside, there is a plethora of products on display — from hay and grain to a hundred varieties of pet food, from halters and lead ropes to fava beans, vineyard cover crop mix and rabbit pellets sold to order by the pound and measured into brown paper bags, taped closed with masking tape. All have their place in this place that retains much of old-time Healdsburg.
Lifelong Healdsburg resident Jon Wright leans on the counter near the 1893 wood stove, brought to the store from its previous location.
Jon and Jan Wright married in 1970, the same year they bought the store from Herman Nock. Nock owned the store for 27 years before that and then-18-year-old Jon Wright went to work for him in 1964, before being drafted in 1968. He was sent to Vietnam the same year.
Jon Wright was still in Vietnam when he got a letter from Nock, asking if he would be interested in buying the business when he got home. Wright wrote back to accept the proposition, and the rest, as they say, is Healdsburg history.
Jon Wright was 3 years old when he met Jan in 1949. The occasion was her birth. Their families were friends and neighbors on Chalk Hill Road, where the couple later raised their daughter, Fanci. They still reside on the property and their daughter lives there as well. The Wrights also run a small cow-and-calf operation.
The feed store, then located at 27 Matheson St., was a mercantile for many years before being converted for animal feed and supplies.
While the Wrights owned the store after 1970, they did not own the land, and when the property owner sold the land to the city of Healdsburg for the future Hotel Healdsburg, the Wrights moved the store to its current location at 10 Mill St.
“No one had any money in those days,” Jon Wright said. He told a story about black walnuts, which at one time provided ready in-season income to those willing to go out and pick them up. Wright admits to picking them himself. He paid a buck-and-a-half for the fall-harvested nuts and sold them for $2, pocketing the difference. He kept the entire amount for the nuts he gathered himself and sold.
He remembers the biggest load going out of the store, 22,000 gunny sacks of nuts, though the average was 12,000-14,000 sacks per week.
The oil from the nuts was a lubricant and used in printer’s ink. The shells were ground down and used to clean jet engines.
Synthetic cleaners and dyes and the larger Sacramento-area nut crops led to the fading of the market around 1987.
For a number of years, Jon and Jan Wright served on the Future Farmers Fair Board, and Jon Wright served as director of the Future Farmers Twilight Parade.