For Mark Preston, it’s all about his dream of continuing the family legacy and taking pride in what the family’s five generations have accomplished as a small family business. The story of this family legacy began almost 100 years ago.
In 1910, William and Eva James set up a small outpost in Walker Pass, which they called James Station, to provide much-needed supplies to the local miners and ranchers. William would travel to Porterville to pick up supplies for the store while Eva would provide travelers with home-cooked meals as they were passing through. Their son, Bert, as his wife Helen continued the tradition in 1929, when they bought a small store in Old Kernville, and for the past 80 years, James Store has thrived as a Kern Valley legacy.
In 1950 when Lake Isabella was developed, James Store moved to its current location in present day Kernville, and continues to truly be a family business, as the sixth generation is currently involved in the management of both James Store in Kernville and James Station in Southlake, which was built in 1988. After Bert and Helen retired, their son Clint, who was originally a rancher like his father, and his wife Betty took responsibility for James store. The business grew right along with the Kern Valley through the years, and in 1980, the James’s were able to expand, doubling the size of the original store. Clint and Betty had several children, who all worked there. “I started working there in the 6th grade; before Clint and mom met, I worked summers. It was a small store at the time, before we did any additions,” remembered Mark Preston, Betty’s son and current owner of James Store, “Later, Clint had a dream of expanding and shared with me that he wanted to do that as the Valley grew, and wanted the boys to run it. That came to pass years later.”
Preston, along with his brother Mike, began operating the business in 1986, and together planned and built James Station in Southlake. They began the annual Chili/Salsa cook-offs there, with the proceeds going to a scholarship fund at Kern Valley High School, maintaining the involvement in the community that had built the James Store foundation. “I feel strongly about serving the community in the way I was brought up; with good customer service. I’m very pleased with our community and the way that they support us,” said Preston, “We’re very blessed, we’ve been very fortunate.”
Always conscientious of the community’s growing needs, Preston says that they are always looking for new ways to serve their customers and are happy to receive suggestions. For example, they have begun offering organic produce and the Nature’s Own organic line at their stores recently and their rotisserie chicken is antibiotic free, responding to requests from health-conscious shoppers who want a more natural option. Also, Preston said that James Station is preparing to expand their store by offering a large deli section with many ready-made meal options and a sit-in eating area to help make up for the lack of restaurants in that area. “You can’t sit still, you have to keep shaking it up,” said Preston.
While the family has been fortunate, they have had some unfortunate occurrences in the past three years, as Clint James, Mike Preston, and then Betty James have passed away in succession. It has been hard on the family to lose so many loved ones in so short a time, but they have relied on each other to get through the losses and keep each other strong. The fifth generation of the family is now managing both James Store and Station; Neal, Cody, and Chad Preston have all been active in the day to day operations of the store since they were children, knowing they will eventually take over the helm. The young men have helped to meet the needs of the residents and visitors to the Kern Valley by expanding Southlake to include the Sporting Goods department and fuel station. Their own children, Kaden, Ethan, and Tristen can already be glimpsed occasionally donning and apron and helping grandpa or their fathers in the store, and hopefully will be the next generation of family to take the lead at the James stores. “I wish my brother would have been around to see his dream of continuing the family legacy come true,” said Preston, “I’m proud of what we have accomplished as a small family business.”
PHOTO BELOW: Mark Preston, center, is flanked by his sons Cody Preston, left, and Neal Preston, right, in front of the Sierra Gateway Market in Kernville. Administrator, KRVR.org firstname.lastname@example.org
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