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.
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.
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.”