Anza resident Robert Sawtelle after more than a year obtaining county permits with difficulty and spending a great deal of time upgrading an older building along Highway 371 will soon be a very “happy” man when he opens a family dream called, appropriately “Mr. Happy’s Mercantile,” in the next few weeks.
Many residents and travelers who did not know Sawtelle, watched as the old gas station/restaurant at 57475 Highway 371 began to evolve from the worn, dust covered cinderblock building obscured with tumbleweeds and dead brush to a brightly colored yellow, blue and white store with a delightful mural inviting people to visit the new “Mr. Happy’s Mercantile.” Even more attractive is the tall stick figured Mr. Happy man sign with a smiley-faced emoticom at the entrance.
A smiling Robert Sawtelle said the new Anza mercantile specializing in vintage items and gifts from local artists, craftsmen and crafters for sale “we are right in the final stages and are shooting for the hard opening of the store on the Saturday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 26).”
Sawtelle recalled his longtime effort to make he and his mother’s dream come true to open a Route 66 type variety store on the property. “We had hoped to open on Christmas of last year,” said Sawtelle. He said they ran into problems with getting county permits that have delayed the opening until now.
The older building that may have been built before the 1960s, like many others along Highway 371 in Anza served a number of different businesses. The ownership records of his building were not on file with Riverside County, Sawtelle said. He learned that in 1998 the county revised its planning and building codes and now wants to know about prior ownership and uses of businesses in the county area before new permits would be issued.
He said he did a lot of research on the old building but could only come up with bills of sale on the building. Because of this county permit rule, his hopes of opening before Christmas, 2016 were dashed. After months of research, appeals and paying for more than $2,500 in fees the county finally approved his plot plan.
The building had to be upgraded to meet fire and safety codes. While water was a “sticking point,” he said he resolved the problem. A part of the compromise to gain the water permit was an agreement that the bathroom in the building cannot be used as a “public” restroom and only for employee and family use. It has been noted by other local businesses county and state rules like these continue to plague Anza businesses.
Sawtelle, pointed to the fire safety lockbox in front of the business he had to install as his required final upgrade on the building before he can officially open.
While readying his new business Sawtelle has created a number of websites and a Facebook page to introduce his new business at happymercantile.com.
Mr. Happy Mercantile on the inside is unique. Taking centerstage in the 1,500 square foot building Sawtelle proudly shows off in the ribboned off area a completely carved out full-sized hand carved Harley Davidson Fatboy motorcycle made from Mahogany, teak, cane other fine woods he recently purchased. It looks so real it is hard to believe it’s all in wood. The origin of the woodcarving comes, he believes, from a master woodworker in Rhodesia. “You can’t import things like these anymore,” said Sawtelle, “because the wood in these are now protected.” Along with the life-sized hand carved motorcycle a smaller toy-sized wooden motorcycle. “They are NOT for sale,” he said.
“It might be a stopping off place for motorcyclists, kinda like making Mr. Happy’s Mercantile, with a lot of Highway 66 items.” He said he once was a motorcycle rider himself.
What makes the store even more unique is its division into different venues of arts and crafts, each with its own area. Pointing to the areas is a wooden directional sign to each of the areas. The areas include a chic boutique, pop culture, kids corral, man cave, wine country, knickknack paddock, the doll house, spirit center, crafter’s corner and community corner.
He said while he will have a lot of America memorabilia for sale in his store, he invites local craftsmen and artists to place their items for sale in the story on a consignment basis. “We want the community artists to be involved in the store with a focus on handcrafted things.”
The website provides a form for local artists and craftsmen to fill out if they wish to put any of their creations on consignment. “We don’t have a lot of space, so we will take smaller items, but no big furniture,” Sawtelle said. For more information on the store grand opening and consignment forms email firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call (951) 763-2692.