by Holly Madrigal / photos by Matthew Caine
“Our produce display was an old Ping-Pong table,” laughs Mary Anne Trevey, thinking about the beginnings of Mariposa Market in Willits. “After the store closed we would put the produce to bed in the cooler and play Ping-Pong.” When Mariposa was starting out, it was before the mainstream organic movement. The idea of seeking out fruits and vegetables that had not been treated with chemicals or pesticides was still in its infancy. “We had to go to great lengths to get our produce,” she explains. “There were old-timers out in Potter Valley that grew amazing melons and peaches, but the majority of the produce had to be bought in Santa Rosa. We would drive down before dawn and bring fruits and vegetables back up to service the store.”
Mariposa Market, as we know it today, is a beautiful, thriving, cutting-edge market with teeming displays of fresh fruit and vegetables, much of which come from local Mendocino County farms. Mariposa Market is as much a gathering place and social hub as it is a place to buy groceries. With the expanded beer and wine section, lively deli, welcoming patio, and freshly made to-go food, Mariposa is your best place in Willits to run into friends and catch up on the local happenings. But it took years of dedication by Mary Anne and the original employees and family of Mariposa to get this market to where it is today.
“We started in August of 1979, next to the old feed store and icehouse in Willits (at Main Street and East San Francisco Street). Owners included me, my husband and my brother,” says Mary Anne. “Our heat was an old barrel converted to a woodstove and our cash register was a hand-held calculator and a muffin tin.” The market grew slowly, adding a pickup truck to make produce runs. They soon started providing dairy and perishables and got an actual register.
In 1989, Mary Anne’s husband’s plumbing business was taking off, so he left to run that, and her brother moved on to other projects, but Mary Anne and a dedicated group of employees carried on. By the late ‘90s, the market had outgrown its humble beginnings and moved to a location at 600 Main Street. A beautiful mural and large butterfly (“mariposa” means butterfly in Spanish) adorned the front of the building. “We thought there was so much room that we would never be able to fill it all,” shares Mary Anne. Little did she know that by 2007 they would have outgrown this location as well.
“I remember the lines going out the back door,” recalls a long-time customer. “We used to have to dance around each other because they would be so busy that the carts couldn’t fit down the aisle.” By this time Mariposa Market had become a full-service natural food store, including a full line of health and beauty products, gifts, extensive bulk foods, and a full produce cooler. The movement to eat locally was really starting to take off around this time, and Mary Anne curated the produce, buying from the new farms popping up around Mendocino County, including Irene Engber of Laytonville and Tom Palley of Covelo Organic.
“A true act of fate resulted in the move to Mariposa’s current location,” says Mary Anne. The property next to them opened up and through a sheer force of will they were able to buy it and design the current building. The new space allowed them to expand significantly and provided needed parking. With the additional room, Mary Anne was able to add a deli and coffee bar that has become a welcome gathering space. Mariposa now offers beer and wine, which completes its role as a one-stop-shop.
This market has not only been a wonderful place to shop but also a great place to work. A couple of employees like Nan Trichler have been there almost from the beginning, and others have lent their talents along the way. It has been a long journey getting Mariposa to where it is today. Mary Anne laughs, revealing that she does not know how she was able to pull it off, but seeing that twinkle in her eye and witnessing her passion for good, clean food and nourishment, it is clear that Mariposa Market will continue to be a Willits icon for many years to come.