June 25, 2017
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Penngrove Market rising from the ashes

  • Construction workers are in the process of rebuilding the Penngrove Market, which burned to the ground during a fire in May of 2015. Since then, the businesses housed in the building have moved to other locations. Photo by Irene Hilsendager

By: Irene Hilsendager
March 10, 2017
Prominent Penngrove resident Martin Sessi puts heart and soul into getting old historic general store rebuilt

After a devastating fire at the Penngrove Market in May of 2015, some serious planning, remodeling and cementing have been going on for more than a year.

SuperBurgers, Passinissi’s and the Penngrove Market were all displaced, but hopefully this building will soon have a new beginning. Martin Sessi, a prominent Penngrove resident, has put his heart and soul into getting the old historic general store rebuilt. Martin had to go through one year of public hearings because the building had been designated a historical district. Even the historical committee had a waiting period of five months. 


Entrance from the south

The south side of the remodeled building will be the designated entrance to the store. An overhang was structured so a farmers’ market could use the paved area to bring fresh produce to the market and hopefully it will become a social center for the little hamlet of Penngrove. More parking places have been striped along with many new spaces for handicapped parking. 

An irresponsible person destroyed the little old red historical store. According to public records and two investigators, a cigarette had been flipped into the small space between two stairs. And the Passanissi business, containing pieces of old cardboard, was smoldering for hours before it burst into flames. The warm windy day immediately sent the fire into the attic and all hope of saving the building was lost.


Remembering the trains

In 1870 Northern Pacific Railroad’s locomotives, with their hissing streams of steam, began chugging their way through Penngrove. In December of 1870, W.P. Edwards built the first of the building that housed one of the first general stores and eventually became the storefront of Penngrove Market. 

The building also functioned as an express office, ticket office and the telephone exchange. You could even purchase tickets to travel to different locations.

The historic red building always has housed a mercantile business or general store. It was this store that provided the community with everyday items needed for a family residing in or near Penngrove. 

In 1937, George H. Nissen bought the grocery business and after retiring, son Hahnmen took over the hardware store and called it Nissen House and Hardware. The hardware store was kept by the Nissen’s but sold the grocery part to Francis Leier. The hardware store was in the building until Passanissi’s opened it as a gift store. 


Owned by the Sopers

The Sopers bought the grocery part of the business in 1971 and named it the Penngrove Market. They worked side by side and put in many long hours but in 1981 they sold the market. Preti and Tarun Guar took over the market end of it and did very extensive remodeling. 

May 5 of 2015 was the hideous day for the Penngrove residents. The fire department responded very quickly because the Rancho Adobe Fire Station is located only a block away but the inside was gone with only the façade remaining. 

SuperBurger relocated to Cotati, the Passanissi moved to Kentucky Street in downtown Petaluma and the current status is the front of the building was painted to at least give it a little life until someone came along to rebuild. Sessi, the owner, did just that. 


Maybe in a few months

It seems to be a few more months before a tenant may move in. Because Penngrove is unincorporated no fast food places have been allowed, and therefore, the residents of Penngrove are depending on a very modern grocery store where one can pop in to get milk or just to chat with others.

Martin had visited Italy in the 70s and has always envisioned an open market with vegetable stalls and fresh bread. Shortly his dream will be full-filled. He believes that he has tenants already lined up to occupy the new building that now smells of sheet rock and fresh paint until the grocery and bakery part of the store is ready for business.