Downtown Inverness building for sale

08/11/2016

The more-than-century-old building that encompasses almost all of downtown Inverness is for sale with a listing price of $2.5 million. Longtime Inverness resident Marshall Livingston has co-owned the building since 2001, but said his business partner, Dick Lemon, has moved to Santa Fe and wants to sell; Mr. Livingston co-listed the property with Sotheby’s realtor Rick Trono after deciding he could not buy him out.

“I hope it gets passed on to someone with a sense of Inverness. It’s in the historic district,” Mr. Livingston said.

The building currently houses the Inverness post office, Saltwater Oyster Depot, the Point Reyes Light, a small gallery and a family in the upstairs apartment. Luc Chamberland, the owner of Saltwater, said he is working to assemble a group of investors to help him buy it, both for the security of his three-year-old restaurant and to maintain the building into the future. 

“It’s the heart of Inverness. I want to keep the character as it is now, and make sure that the building is in good hands,” he said.

The building dates to roughly 1899, when Atillio Martinelli, a Swiss immigrant whose family owned stores in Olema, built Inverness’s first mercantile to serve summer people and ranchers, according to a history written by Dewey Livingston for the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History. (Mr. Martinelli, who became a county supervisor, also built a candy store, located where Vladimir’s now stands.) 

The building was originally one story, but a second-story living area was added within a couple of years. Back then, customers would tell the proprietor what they needed—three pounds of flour, perhaps—and Mr. Martinelli would collect the items, as self-serve stores didn’t become the norm until the ‘20s and ‘30s. 

The building’s second story crumbled during the 1906 earthquake, but it was soon rebuilt. Since the earthquake destroyed the tiny log-cabin post office on Inverness Way, the mail center moved into Mr. Martinelli’s building, where it has been ever since.

In the 1930s, the grandparents of Point Reyes Station resident Michael Mery bought the building from Mr. Martinelli and ran a “traditional general store,” Mr. Mery said. It had a grocery store, butcher shop and hardware shop.

Mr. Mery’s father worked as the postmaster there until he retired; his mother, Megan, a postal clerk, succeeded him. (When people referred to her as the postmistress, she would correct people, telling them to call her the postmaster because “there’s no sex in a post office,” according to Mr. Mery.) 

Mr. Mery’s grandparents retired and sold the building in the 1950s, but the store went out of business not long after. The new owners, who didn’t live in West Marin, apparently were unable to hack it.

They may have also struggled to compete against the new store across the street, originally called Rite-Price Market, which Mr. Martinelli had built for his nephew George Ludy in 1948 or ’49, according to an article by Meg Linden published in a history museum newsletter last year.

Martin Griffin, a well-known environmentalist, owned the building briefly in the ‘60s, a decade when it also housed an antique shop, a real estate office and a laundromat, Mr. Livingston said.

David and Nora Plant purchased it in 1972, and Mr. Livingston bought it from them in 2001 with Margaret Morris, a former Inverness resident who moved to Healdsburg. When she wanted to sell in 2010, in part because she had moved, Mr. Lemon, who was a founding director of the West Marin Fund, purchased her portion. 

In the past 15 years, the building has also housed a gift shop, a leather studio, pizza restaurants, a food cooperative and The Blackbird, a café that closed in 2014.