Homecoming

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky
Kristina and Vince Clarkson, with their store’s “mascot/security guard” Lucy, reopened the Paradise location of Hudson’s Appliance Center last month.

Vince and Kristina Clarkson firmly believe in destiny, that things happen for a reason. Seven years ago, a decade into a satisfying career as a helicopter machine gunner in the Marine Corps, Vince answered the call of family duty at Hudson’s Appliance Center in Paradise, owned by his father, Jim, who was battling cancer. The couple found unexpected joy in civilian life and took over the business 5 1/2 years ago.

In April 2018, they opened a second store, at Dominic Drive and Skyway in southeast Chico. Thriving, they planned to upgrade their warehouse behind the Paradise store on Pearson Road, with work set to start Nov. 8.

The day of the Camp Fire.

That morning, uncharacteristically, Kristina was behind schedule, running 10 minutes late. So, when the blaze hit Paradise, the Clarksons and their children were at their Magalia home instead of en route to school and work. They used the Upper Ridge escape route—aka Forest Highway 171—to Butte Meadows and, in Vince’s words, “saved us from very potentially having to deal with all that trauma.”

Their house survived, but the store and warehouse suffered significant damage—primarily flooding, as the store building’s roof melted and rainstorm runoff flowed to the rear of the property. They lost inventory as well as their primary location.

Still, Vince said, “we were absolutely blessed that we didn’t lose the building and we just very recently had opened up our Chico location, so we were able to continue operations. Very hectic and messy and small and cramped, but this [Paradise store] was a full gut and remodel up here.”

The Clarksons never thought of abandoning their flagship. That strip-mall storefront was where Arlan Hudson established the business around a half-century earlier. Jim Clarkson started working there in 1985 for the second owners, Weldon and Sandy Bauman; he officially retires June 30. Both Vince and Kristina are Paradise High School graduates, and Kristina’s father, Jeff Marcus, is a former Paradise High principal.

“This feels like home,” Kristina said. “It’s where [Hudson’s] belongs.”

“Absolutely,” Vince continued. “At the end of the day, yeah, we could have just continued operations out of Chico, but all of our customers who are rebuilding up here are excited to come up here, see the progress, meet with their contractors, and to be able to swing in here. And it’s obviously important tax revenue for the town of Paradise.”

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

Even with the Chico store’s significance, Kristina Clarkson says the original Hudson’s, on Pearson Road in Paradise, “feels like home.”

The post-fire period proved challenging. While fortunate to have a business standing, the Clarksons had to run it all out of the 1,100-square-foot satellite store. They kept all 19 employees on the payroll, hoping sales volume would sustain them.

Quarters were so cramped, with just two desks for all to share, that each staff member picked a showroom appliance as a file cabinet—using dishwashers and ovens to store product information and invoices. At night, the store transformed into a dormitory for displaced employees and their families who pulled out air mattresses and availed themselves of the working kitchenware.

“It was probably the craziest year-and-change one could possibly experience in retail,” Vince said, “not to mention how busy we were.”

Hudson’s immediately encountered two waves: first, evacuees furnishing rental units; second, returnees replacing refrigerators and freezers rendered unusable by spoilage after sitting weeks without power. The store also got customers—sometimes 20 in a day—by way of the Salvation Army, which supplied vouchers for appliances, furniture and tools to fire victims who’d lost their homes.

Meanwhile, the Clarksons got the Paradise renovation underway. They reopened the warehouse first and welcomed customers to the store Jan. 24 of this year, though it took another two weeks to get the water on. They moved to Paradise to be closer to the stores; “we’re here more than in our home,” Kristina said.

They’re turning the display kitchen island into a fully functioning food preparation area in order to hold events—demonstrations, chef dinners, date nights—that, along with barbecues they’ll host out front, the Clarksons hope will help bring together Ridge residents.

“It’s important for people who are rebuilding here to understand that they need to try to support anyone they can here in the town,” Vince said.

“Support the community you’re going to live in,” Kristina added. “Without supporting the community, you have nothing.”

Reflecting on the past few years—their return home, expanding Hudson’s, the Nov. 8 near-miss and all that’s happened since—the Clarksons say they feel “everything happens for a reason.”

Said Kristina: “You’ve just got to be patient. And I think that’s what we’re all learning these days: Work hard, be patient, and [be] kind.”

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