Couple closes Agness Store, ends tomato festival
Randy Robbins /
Special to the Pilot
Published Mar 24, 2017 at 07:31PM
When Michele Berlant headed west from her home in New York City to rural Agness (population 91, give or take a few deer) it was a bit of culture shock.
She came to visit relatives and her friends the Sherberts, who owned 360 acres in town. After one look at paradise, this big city girl decided to swap her high heels in for hiking boots.
No more honking yellow cabs; no skyscrapers here, just the lazy Rogue River shaking hands with the Illinois River, and a stray raccoon or possum to keep her company.
Michele says shortly after moving she met the love of her life, Steve, who, seeing a “good thing,” struck up a conversation after his usual day on the river fishing for salmon, steelhead, and the famous “half-pounders.”
The two were married and decided to take over management of the Old Agness Store in September 2013. The store was built in the 1950s and has been a favorite hang-out destination for boaters who kill time checking it out and the nearby museum.
The Berlants revamped the store and it became quite the meeting place, with homemade breads offered daily, freshly prepared foods, and assorted artisan knick-knacks throughout.
Word of mouth brought in more folks, but the granddaddy of all ideas was the launch of the “World Famous” Agness Tomato Festival — a tribute to the fleshy, tangy red fruit that grows to humongous proportions under the hot summer Agness sun, protected from ocean breezes some 34 miles upriver from Gold Beach on the Jerry’s Flat side of the road.
The festival, like the tomatoes it touted, became bigger than life as Agness burst at the seams with 1,300 to 1,500 tomato devotees.
That didn’t bother the Berlants one bit. It was great for business. They had hosted the event up until now.
“The festival was really good for Agness. People and businesses were very generous, helping fund it, and it raised a bunch of money for the Agness Volunteer Fire Department,” Steve said.
Unfortunately, an ownership decision surrounding the Old Agness Store has meant the Berlants have had to vacate that building and cancel the tomato festival.
“We are sorry to see the festival go; hopefully somebody else will pick it up,” Steve said.
The couple said the Old Agness Store will be reincarnated online. Michele said the opening of the virtual store is still a few months off, but customers familiar with the physical store will be able to peruse and purchase the same items they had before.
There will also be a larger selection of artisan items than they could fit in the old store.
Michele and Steve wanted to acknowledge all the warm support and phone calls they have received since announcing the store closure.
“People around here are the best!” Michele said.” Absolutely the best!”
Steve nodded in agreement.
To keep up on the developments on the new, Old Agness Store online go to Facebook and search for Old Agness Store, or go to www.oldagnessstore.com .
For more information, call (541) 247-2032.
16818628 - on