Bob Bergeron, W.R. Hicks and memories of Gresham past
Bob Bergeron was so danged handsome and a nice guy, to boot. Life was not fair to him. He died recently of Alzheimer's, now believed to have been the result of being a weapons officer on the USS Ranger in Vietnam. Home town hero.
In the Gresham I knew in the late 1960s, he and his brothers, and at one time his dad, all worked in W.R. Hicks & Co. department store, which the family owned. Think of it, a store with an uncool name like W.R. Hicks. Ray Hicks, son of W.R., still worked there when the Bergerons bought it.
Gresham began as a country crossroads where local farmers and their families came on Saturday to do their shopping. Maybe kids got a dime for a movie. W.R. Hicks was where you bought your underwear, overalls, rubber boots and, if the money was there, finer stuff.
All of the Bergerons were kind, brought up with parochial school manners. And Bob had a movie-star persona and, I confided to my friend Pat, looked good in his pants. If you are going to sell clothes, it helps to wear them well. Mark Garber, my editor at The Outlook then, envied Bob's gorgeous head of hair. The fact that Bob was also a nice guy was almost too good to be true.
Right out of high school, Pat and I rented an attic apartment in a house adjacent to the Gresham fairgrounds. I got a job in Portland and took Portland Stages to town — no TriMet then. When I came home, I got off in Gresham at the corner of Second Street and Roberts Avenue and near W.R. Hicks & Co. No reason not to saunter through on my way home.
The chemise was in style at the time. There is a picture somewhere of me in a dress straight as a string, kick pleats at the knee. And a white hat. All bought at W.R. Hicks. I wore it to church on Easter Sunday. I looked good, though I don't think that is what God had in mind.
And here's the thing — I was 18 or 19, and W.R. Hicks gave me a charge account. No credit cards then. Someone trusted you to pay your bill. The store was home. The clerks were like grandmothers and aunts. The Bergerons seemed happy to have me taking up space in the aisles. I lost No. 2 Kid once in the fabric department. I found him next to a bolt of satin, fingering the silky fabric and sucking his thumb.
As such stores began to fade, Jim and Phyllis Bergeron partnered with Bob and Tonya Bergeron in fixing up the Ely Building, opening Pacific Crest Clothing on Main Avenue and revitalizing downtown Gresham. Pacific Crest sold high-end Pendleton stuff.
Our country crossroads began to change. Cloud Tree and Sun and Main Street Grocery were launched. Gresham became trendy, even cool. Ron Bergeron transformed the church on the corner into a wonderful book store.
It was fun to watch Bob and others like him make that transition. Gresham was no longer the town where you grew up and left, but the town you came back to.
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