Life as a Gerlach Shopkeeper

gelrach signWorking in the tiny town of Gerlach, which usually has a population of just over 100, has quite possibly made me jaded. This town is the last stop before Black Rock City, home to Burning Man. We have a post office, one gas station with 2 pumps, one restaurant (Bruno’s), one hotel (also Bruno’s) and three bars, Brunos, Joe’s and the Miner’s Club. Gerlach does not have trash service so we have to take our trash to the transfer station, which has limited hours.

Folks can buy beer, ice and cigarettes at Bruno’s but the closest general store is in Empire, about 15 miles away which sells beer, ice and some groceries. There is a vendor’s Bazaar that sells hand-made (pricey) playa wear, goggles, ice, water and has food trucks. We are thrilled with the wood-fire pizza guys over there.


Then there is Friends of Black Rock/High Rock, a non-profit organization that stewards the 1.2 million acres of National Conservation Area, including the Black Rock Desert and High Rock Canyon. Working closely with the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), the org focuses on educating people about the National Conservation Area and facilitates “boots on the ground” conservation projects and citizen science projects.

FOBR shop.jpgI am a member and volunteer with FOBRHR. During the rest of the year, the visitors center is open four days a week and sells maps, books about the area, photographs, lip balm, patches and stickers. We also serve hot coffee for a donation. More importantly, we supply information and recommendations to visitors, hikers, campers and those wanting to recreate on the land. As a non-profit, the org hosts several fundraisers throughout the year to manage expenses and projects.

Shop Banner PLAYA jpgAs a member and volunteer, I set up The Last Chance Outpost is a pop-up store I set up, within  headquarters here in Gerlach. I try to supply playa supplies that folks really need for survival like work gloves, goggles, Red Bull, over-the-counter medications, bandannas, sarongs and second-hand clothing. I also have some novelties like furry hats and winged goggles. It makes me so happy when somebody comes in for something obscure, like sewing machine needles or hide-a-key holders… and I have them!

FBR clothingFBR supplyFBR supply table

Since I fund the goods up front, I alone am taking the financial risk of investing in goods to sell here, so I can’t stock everything. I think I did a pretty good job with the assortment of goods. Still, visitors ask for things we don’t have like: watches, paratools, French Press coffee makers, fire blankets, birthday cake and red shirts with the Canadian leaf on it. Really.

Just this morning, a girl with perfect makeup, wearing black velvet platform strappy sandals, asked if we had boots. I was thrilled to show her our selection of affordable ladies’ second-hand boots. She looked them over briefly, then asked, “Is there another shoe store here?” I instinctively laughed out loud and said, “Yes, in Reno.” I fear she didn’t see the humor in my reply.

We have burners arriving from all over the world, who have driven through the metropolis of Reno or from the South, or Winnemucca from the North… so they’ve had plenty of opportunities to shop for what they need. Yet, some folks who have never been to Gerlach before assume we have shopping outlets. It’s no surprise since we are usually surrounded by commerce as far as the eye can see. I live in Kings Beach, a small town in North Lake Tahoe with few shopping options, so I am used to it.

When people come in and ask where the other stores are, it takes all my strength to not say, “Sure, the Walmart is 20 miles past Fly Ranch, just turn left on the dirt road. You can’t miss it”. I think living in Gerlach has turned me into a grumpy old Gerlach curmudgeon… a Germudgeon. I’ll apologize now if I’ve offended anyone coming through.

Post-Burn UPDATE:

Thanks to everyone who stopped in and shopped at Friends of Black Rock High Rock. We raised a good amount of funds to continue the important work that the group does.

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