A few weeks later, we met friends for the opening of a new bar inside what was once the mill's company store. The building, a grand redwood warehouse with three-story ceilings and imposing beams, had been Fort Bragg's sole department store throughout my childhood — the place where I was taken, year after year, for the annual rite of back-to-school shopping.
Today, the Company Store, as this upscale mini-mall has been renamed, houses an excellent Mendo Bistro, spa, a gallery, a coffeehouse, a bike shop and Living Lights, a well-known raw foods cooking school. There's also the new Company Bar, where leather couches, nail-polish-red cabinets, an ornate dungeon-like wine cellar and extravagant cocktails compete with the pinball machines, vinyl stools, sticky floors and neon beer signs around the corner at the Golden West.
Like any place where the past and future mingle in such fragile kinship, the balance Fort Bragg has struck often feels impossible to maintain. But it's a line my hometown seems determined to walk.