As you stroll historic downtown Petaluma and come upon HeeBe JeeBe on Kentucky Street, “Champion” will be there to greet you. Champion is a circa 1940s-50s coin operated horse. He sits just outside the door, saddled and bridled in real leather, as “the most beloved thing in Petaluma for the under four crowd,” says HeeBe JeeBe owner Drew Washer. “My husband drove back to Bisbee, Arizona in the middle of summer heat with no air conditioning and brought him back here,” elaborates Drew. Halfway into our interview a little girl walks towards the cashier with pep talk from her mom, and shyly requests a quarter for one ride.
Drew Washer opened HeeBe JeeBe General Store in the 1980s when she moved to Petaluma to start a family. As a creative professional and mother her goal was to create a place of value. She conceived of the store, initially named Boomerang, while freelancing for catalogue companies. “I was doing design boards. So I opened it from a very visual artistic direction, as opposed to facts and figures.” A requisite sense of adventure to acquire decorations such as Champion, and thoughtful accommodations for the “under four years old” crowd, reflect Drew’s unique sensibility.
Coupling family and business acumen, Drew often picks up heirlooms on short family road trips through California towns or to desert landscapes. Objects like taxidermies of buffalo and goat heads are mounted high on the walls. But don’t mistake the decor for tinsel. From beasts to Dia De Los Muertos skeletons and a chandelier of hanging fishes crafted by members of Washer’s family, there are poetic stories behind everything. Patrons are also encouraged to follow their own storylines with merchandise, shares staff. Whether on your way to a pink elephant party, contemplating a birthday gift, or looking for a special card, your situation and taste are likely accounted for by a range of merchandise “from young to old.”
At the far corner of the store is The Back House Gallery. It isn’t a standard art gallery, with four snug corners lit by one magical skylight. On the other hand its measure follows a different ruler. “Both my kids in their artistic and creative years had their own little house they lived in. And we always called it ‘the back house.’ My son and daughter did their first shows out there,” explains Drew. “From ideas that inspire me and whatever is happening in the community,” The Back House Gallery creates nine shows per year that are community driven. March 27th featured “Home Work,” an exhibit of work by three local art teachers, a glimpse of “how they keep their own art practices alive.” The end of June will present “Go Slow,” a sloth-themed fundraiser to help build an aviary in a local classroom. In July stay tuned for the artist open call for self-portraits.
Envisioned by Drew Washer over sixteen years ago as a “challenge of pulling something together, whatever it is,” HeeBe JeeBe General Store is a place you cannot replicate. As a small business owner Washer infuses the 19th century “general store” model with quirky alterations just for Petaluma. General stores were small town stores all about providing variety and meeting the needs of nearby inhabitants. Holding to values of community and family values, Drew’s vision as a business owner/curator has created a rare alloy. Part general store, part novelty shop, and community gathering post, the store caters to the local parent, quirk, retro snob, artsy cultural connoisseur or nerd, thoughtful gift giver, resident and of course visitors passing through. It seems best to meet a friend there, take one’s time browsing, and of course, chat with other folks.