owner Terry Leavey
stands in front of his
Pearson Road establishment.
"I always kind of had one
foot in the past"
PARADISE Pair-O-Dice Mercantile, an 1800s-era dry good store, is never going to make Civil War expert Terry Leavey a fortune.
In fact, the store is open only one day a week and it's not in a prime location, tucked behind Downtown Market off of Pearson Road.
But that's OK. Leavey does most of his retail business online and a little peek behind the curtain reveals Leavey is also a sought-after resource for filmmakers. And even if those things aren't bringing him millions, they're not, that's OK too. The Magalia history buff is content living in the Sierra foothills with his wife, Frances, and doing what he loves.
Most of what Leavey does 'as a self-identified historical resources manager' comes from his Web site, www.ushist.com, which he said gets 35,000 unique visitors per month. There, casting directors, re-enactors and the generally curious can (and do) peruse and buy his wares or his services. The Web site, maintained by Leavey, naturally, is chock full of information, photos and links.
For those in this area, the late 1800s come to life in Leavey's physical store, which recently moved from its Almond Street location in order to take advantage of an on-site warehouse.
"I think of the store as a museum, but where you can buy the stuff you see rather than a cup that says 'Paradise California'," said Leavey. "I wanted to make it look and function as much as possible as an 1880s store."
The fascinating, neatly appointed shop has a wide-ranging inventory of books, weapons, camping gear, tack and general household and personal items, all reminiscent of that time period. A large selection of clothing includes dozens of hats, men's military uniforms and women's clothing, crafted by seamstresses including Frances Leavey, that have been used by the town's Gold Nugget Days queen contestants.
|Click photo to enlarge
|A view of the store's inventory
of Civil War-era dry goods,
where Terry Leavey does a small
segment of his business.
The glass counter at the front sports a large selection of soft drinks made from recipes of the 1800s, including sarsaparilla and cream soda, as well as root beer, ginger beer and apple beer.
"I enjoy doing this from a purist sense, and I wouldn't mind if the store was busy all day with people just asking me questions," Leavey said.
A third-generation Californian who's been a Civil War buff since his father bought him a book on the Battle of Gettysburg when he was 8, Leavey has history in his blood, in more ways than one.
His father, H. Harold Leavey, became the first chairman of the Sacramento Redevelopment Agency in 1950 and remained as a board member until 1971. That agency was instrumental in revamping Old Sacramento. Leavey's grandmother was born in Vallejo around 1881. In addition, some research revealed that Leavey's great-great-granduncle owned a cigar and dry goods store in Sacramento as early as the mid-1800s.
"So, the family stores have been in business for 160 years, with an 80-year break," Leavey said.
Born and raised in Sacramento, Leavey was a rock 'n' roll musician in his teens and exhibited a wanderer's muse. Later, he had a career as a computer systems engineer in the 1970s and '80s for companies such as IBM and Univac before leaving the industry in 1989.
"I got burned out," he said. "Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week I was on call ... I was like a rubber band wound too tight and it snapped."
In the last 20 years, Leavey has become a widely known authority on 19th-century war tactics, which has led to consultation assignments for movies such as "Back to the Future 3," "Rambo 3" and the Johnny Depp movie, "Dead Man." Leavey called the Depp movie "the most authentic Western film ever done."
Leavey also consulted on the film, "Glory," the mention of which prompted him to unfurl a 34-star American flag that Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick and others had signed.
|Click photo to enlarge
|Terry Leavey, an historical resources manager,
offers his expertise to movie and TV commercial
makers as well as reenactors.
Leavey's long list of historical reenactment credits include work in television, including casting director for a McDonald's commercial and reenactor coordinator for a bourbon ad.
His adventures have taken him on location to Richmond, Va.; Jekyll Island, Ga.; Natchez, Ms.; the Grand Canyon and Yuma, Ariz. as well as Monument Valley, an oft-used location for Westerns in the Four Corners region.
Leavey credits his wife for getting him active in the historic military scene, suggesting they take part in a Civil War reenactment when they lived in the Phoenix area in the early 1980s.
"She may regret it now, but she's the one who did it," Leavey said, referring to how deeply immersed he's become over the years.
Leavey also has an insightful view of war. "War is a necessary evil, but not as necessary as some people think it is," he said. "You have to learn the truth of the past, not the propaganda past the winners create. But the losers don't tell the truth either.
"You have to read history from both sides and treat it like a puzzle. Put the pieces on a table, fit them together and see what you have when you're done."
Pair-O-Dice Mercantile, 7355 Black Butte Road, in Shingletown, is open by appointment only. Call 474-3820 or visit www.ushist.com.
Staff writer Alan Sheckter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 896-7771.