PASO ROBLES — There was a point prior to coming out of the COVID-19 shutdown when General Store Paso Robles owners asked themselves, “what is it people really need from us?”

“What we decided was that people really needed because we needed it too was a joyful place to feel a little bit normal,” said Joeli Yaguda, owner of General Store Paso Robles along with Erin Stuck and Jillian Waters. “We just tried as hard as we could to create that even though this is the farthest thing from normal that you could imagine.”

This was three weeks before reopening after being shut down for nearly three months due to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mid-March stay-at-home orders.

Yaguda, Stuck and Waters have owned General Store Paso Robles for seven years. The quaint shop sits in the heart of Downtown Paso Robles on bustling 12th Street between Pine and Park streets and has a great view of the City Park. The store features products from makers on the Central Coast.

The storage room of General Store Paso Robles has a wall of puzzles stacked nearly to the ceiling.

It turns out puzzles and a pandemic go together like cheese and wine. Who knew?

General Store Paso Robles

During the COVID-19 shutdown, puzzles were the trendy item. Many retailers sold out quickly and had a hard time getting them back in stock. Not so for General Store Paso Robles.

“We jokingly said, ‘did you ever think we would have a puzzle store’ because puzzles were really something giving people relief and distraction,” said Yaguda. “Thankfully, we had these incredible relations we’ve already established and we were getting puzzle deliveries when they were already sold out on Amazon. We were still getting them. It felt good to be able to give somebody something that you knew was going to make them happy for at least a couple of hours.”

Other hot sellers for General Store Paso Robles during the days of COVID-19 were Yes Cocktail Company mixers and Paso Almond Brittle.

“I think that if you were to paint a portrait of what our average customer was doing, they were sipping a Yes Cocktail mixer while doing a puzzle and eating Paso Almond Brittle. That was like 80 percent of our activity,” Yaguda said with a laugh.

Laughs come easier now for Yaguda and her partners. There wasn’t much to smile about back when little was known about the coronavirus. They actually closed down a couple of days before Newsom issued his order.

“We were observing behavior that we didn’t feel was safe for employees,” said Yaguda, adding that all of the owners were part of the at-risk categories. “At that time, masks were not at all encouraged and we felt like we were putting our employees at risk.”

Fortunately, people could place orders on the General Store Paso Robles website.

“Thankfully, we had that infrastructure and almost from the moment we closed, we were getting curbside orders and orders for us to ship all over. That was amazing and that just continued,” Yaguda said.

Yaguda and her partners are feeling pretty good today. They are not where they projected they would be when 2020 started, but better than expected when the pandemic first hit.

“We feel super strong and supported. I can say with confidence that we are going to be here,” Yaguda said. “We aren’t a huge company and so it is really easy for us to dial things up and down and make adjustments.”

With the Christmas season just around the corner, Yaguda said they had their usual planning meeting and it was just as fun as previous years.

Yaguda did not mention any specific items that they are going to bring in just for the holidays. General Store Paso Robles will focus as it always does on “local makers” first.

“We have engaged with our local makers at an even deeper level this year. So you are going to see some more custom items that are made just for us by small local makers that you can’t find anywhere else because we want to give them the business first of all and secondly, we continue to want to be something different than what you can get online. We think there is a lot more soul in it that way,” Yaguda said.

General Store Paso Robles is located at 841 12th St., Paso Robles. For more information, visit online www.generalstorepr.com or call 805-226-5757.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles