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Pedersen’s, the oldest one-family business in Santa Rosa, is closing forever next year.

The announcement came as a shock to some of us. After 125 years of selling classy furniture — and sometimes appliances and certainly mattresses and even, in the early years, caskets — the fourth generation is saying “Enough.”

Why would we make a fuss about this? Brick-and-mortar businesses are folding every day. Stores open and close in this economic whirlwind with the speed of summer lightning. But it seems to me the Pedersen story isn’t about furniture. It’s about tenacity and adaptability (think caskets) through a century and a quarter, about a town’s unique history and, course, the proverbial “good old days.”

The Pedersen saga is as familiar to the born-and-raised contingent of Santa Rosa citizenry as the store’s delivery truck at your next-door neighbor’s house or the display windows of parlor perfection along an entire block of Fifth Street.

It’s about a Danish immigrant cabinetmaker named Jens Christian Pedersen who settled first (as so many Scandinavian immigrants did) in the Dakotas — South Dakota, in his case. But he kept looking westward and in 1892 with his wife, Karen, and children Obert, Fred, Christine and Mary came to Santa Rosa, a town that was deemed to have very good prospects in the last decade of the 19th century.

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This is a Santa Rosa story in so many ways. In this “red-letter” year, as you have undoubtedly heard, it was 150 years ago that the town became an official chartered city. It is also Santa Rosa Junior College’s 100th year.

Everywhere you turn, someone is celebrating something, although the revelry may be somewhat subdued in acknowledgment of the deadly and destructive fires of the 149th year.

Let’s back up to those first years of Pedersen’s Furniture.

Some might be surprised to learn that our pioneer cabinetmaker sold caskets and was an undertaker in the early years, at one point contracting with the county to bury indigents for $1 apiece.

Actually, almost all pioneer cabinetmakers made caskets. They had the tools and the skill, and if it wasn’t their chosen profession, it got them started as businessmen important to their communities.

Just how important became clear 13 years after the Pedersen family arrived.

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The 2017 firestorms were not the first time Santa Rosa has looked disaster in the eye.

If you’ve lived in the Bay Area more than 10 minutes you know in three days it will be the anniversary not only of Paul Revere’s ride (“On the eighteenth of April in Seventy-five, hardly a man is now alive...”) but also the 1906 earthquake that turned Santa Rosa’s business district to rubble and killed more than 100 people.

The moxie this town exhibited in that long-ago disaster, was a beacon to follow through the dark days that came to us six months ago when so many lives were lost and displaced, and so many homes destroyed by the firestorm of the fall.

The determination of merchants and residents alike earned nationwide admiration in 1906, when Santa Rosa was labeled by a Pacific coast magazine as “the pluckiest city in California.”

Coffey Park Chronicles

Read more stories about Coffey Park’s recovery here

Read all of the PD’s fire coverage here

Part of that pluckiness can be attributed to Jens Pedersen and sons joining other merchants in finding creative ways for “business-as-usual,” such as Max Rosenberg and other dry goods dealers selling merchandise from trunks in front of their ruined stores or from hastily constructed shanties on the old sites.

One of my favorite photographs from the earthquake collections is a flower seller on the sidewalk in a bare board shack on Fourth Street, with the damaged library looming in the background.

J.C. Pedersen, his store at Fourth and A streets leveled, opened for business immediately, selling caskets as fast as he could make them from the front porch and barn of the family’s home in the 300 block of Second Street. (Both of these addresses are now part of the downtown mall.)

The undertaking portion of the business took on immediate importance, but the need for furnishings would continue and increase as the town rebuilt.

Unlike my plucky flower seller, whose shanty was temporary, Pedersen’s stayed with the Second Street porch and barn for five years, until the town, including the courthouse, was rebuilt. In 1911 the store opened in a new building on Fourth Street (where Corrick’s is today) and stayed until 1953, until brothers Obert and Fred, had taken over for their father and their sons, Bill and Fred Jr., had joined the firm.

In ’53, they hired an upstart young contractor named Hugh Codding to build them a store on Fifth and D streets, where they have been these 65 years past.

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Through the 125 years and these several relocations, the passing of management to sons, grandsons and great-grandsons, they’ve sold much more than caskets and couches, progressing from J.C.’s handmade offerings to top-of-the-line manufacturers.

And, through the years, they have sold iceboxes and gas heaters, linoleum, window shades, wood-burning stoves and all manner of more modern appliances.

Despite competition from two other “furniture families” like Stone’s (“Try Stone for soft beds!”) and Nielsen’s Santa Rosa Furniture Company, they’ve carved themselves a niche in the town’s history.

A 1957 Santa Rosa High School graduate named Gloria Anderson wrote to the Press Democrat when she read that Pedersen’s would close.

She recalled that all Class of ’57 girls got a small cedar chest as a gift from Pedersen’s. I’ll bet there’s more than one of those still around.

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Be advised that Pedersen’s is not the only business to pass 100 in Santa Rosa. Corrick’s was opened with stationery and office supplies in 1915 by Arthur Rae Corrick, who passed ownership to his daughter Marjorie and her husband, Kenneth Brown. Son Corrick Brown was the third-generation owner and his son, Keven, and Keven’s wife, Jeri, own it now — with lots of art and beauty wrapped around the office supplies.

The Santa Rosa area’s four-generation champ is Imwalle Gardens, founded in 1886. Joe Imwalle III still runs it, with son Charles.

These are the “hundred club” members that have stayed in the family. The oldest business in town, E.R. Sawyer’s Jewelers, dates to 1879 and the Sawyer family owned it until 1947. Present owner Doug Van Dyke is the second generation of the third owners — and rightfully proud of the heritage.

(Footnote: Ya gotta love these old towns. There’s always a story. Joe Imwalle II and Fred Pedersen married sisters — the daughters of Nate Bacigalupi, one of the earliest of the town’s Italian entrepreneurs. So the fourth generations of Pedersens and Imwalles are cousins.

(Corrick’s, meanwhile, can claim a family connection to jeweler Sawyer. It was a small town once — with staying power.)

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There are other companies enjoying ripe old age. Ernest Finley began The Press Democrat 121 years ago and it is once again in local ownership after 25 years as part of the New York Times Company.

Mead Clark Lumber is 106 this year with three generations of the Destruel family, its second owners, in charge. (Mead Clark was the founder.).

I’m always stymied by where the Exchange Bank belongs in this list. Or if it does. Founded in 1890 by Matt Doyle and left to his son Frank, the controlling interest in this 128-year-old hometown institution is held by a trust established by Frank Doyle in the 1940s for scholarships for SRJC students. It’s the Doyle trust. Does that make it family-owned?

I leave that question to you. Or, to the Historical Society of Santa Rosa, which might one day consider a real Hundred Club. With certificates. Or plaques, so we don’t have to wait until they close the doors to acknowledge the history they have made.

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