Sharon Voss has an enthusiastic way of making melons seem seductive or of extolling the exotic attributes of kale.
“People need bananas, or potatoes … grapes … oranges,” Sharon says, emphasizing each word as if digesting its lingering taste and essential nutrients. “There is a big need for real basic food out here.”
What started with an unabashed passion to feed people good food has led the proprietor of Voss Acres Produce Market to branch out and open Copalis Beach Grocery on Highway 109 about 10 miles north of Ocean Shores, bringing quality produce and products to a community that hasn’t had a grocery store in decades.
It seems only fitting that Sharon and Steve Voss ended up married and rooted in Copalis Crossing. From the moment they first met at what is now called the Grizzly Den — but in those days was the Five J’s — on the western edge of Highway 109 leaving Hoquiam, the road was leading them to the beach.
“We were meant to come here and do this,” Sharon said.
He was “blackberry banana milkshake guy” with “sparkly eyes” and she was a Hoquiam High School senior who would show up at his soccer games.
“We knew each other in our 20s, but we just didn’t take the relationship seriously,” Sharon recalls, telling the story of how Voss Acres came to be.
Twenty-some years later, with each going through first marriages and divorces, the couple would reunite just as Steve Voss was beginning to restore one of the landmark homes in the area — the Burgher house, which once served as the railway depot for the train up to Moclips.
Sharon was then living in Lake Stevens and working for the Lake Stevens School District when her father bumped into Steve at a community function. A letter led to a phone call and then another, and Sharon decided to take a drive out for the Fourth of July to visit Steve, her parents and the area where she grew up on Tulips Road.
She literally dropped in unannounced: “We hugged each other and it was everything I remember. We sort of just picked up where we left off.”
They each had two children from their first marriages, and Steve was just then working on what Sharon calls the “black, tarpaper house.” There was a tree house that one could sleep in, a number of small farm buildings, such as a chicken coop and a little barn for a pig.
There was a fenced garden and a feeling of growth and rebirth all around the property.
Steve then was working for a construction company building custom homes. As a specialty contractor, he built the Emerald Surf condos in Ocean Shores in his 20s.
“His favorite things are foundations, framing, siding, roofing, the exterior work,” Sharon said of her husband’s building skills.
When they reunited in 2007-08, Sharon’s children had grown and Steve’s children both welcomed their soon-to-be stepmother. Sharon also brought with her a passion to feed not only her immediate family but the community at large.
After working a while as a payroll supervisor at a local bank, Sharon began to think about doing more with a bountiful organic garden. She also went to visit the Museum of the North Beach up the road in Moclips and met director Kelly Calhoun one afternoon to find out more about the history of the house that Steve and she now called home.
“She told me she was living in the historic railroad house at Copalis Crossing. I was excited to share our photos and history of this iconic structure; one of the very few left standing from over 100 years ago,” Calhoun recalled.
“Kelly came out to visit with me, but I didn’t want to tell him that I was starting to stir this idea about the produce market being in the garage of the house,” Sharon said. “I thought if I could gather enough of the story, share enough of the garden, it would be a perfect setup.”
In 2009, she even went so far as to acquire a business license for the produce market without even having a working space for what is now Voss Acres.
“I pinned it on my bedroom wall because I wanted to draft the name and daydream the idea together,” she said.
Voss Acres proved to be perfectly located for a garden — outside of the coastal fog line with rich soil and plenty of summer sun. It also proved to be well suited for a roadside business.
“I was watching the traffic come in on a Thursday, and then it would leave on a Sunday or Monday,” she said of the location along Ocean Beach Road, which became the well-traveled route for those heading to the bustling new beach community at Seabrook, or to Iron Springs, Moclips, Pacific Beach and Copalis Beach.
“I started realizing how big the word tourism is,” Sharon said. “I’m sitting there on the porch, formulating my idea, and I’m thinking, people need more than just what we have in the garden. There are hikers, boaters. There are clam diggers. There are all kinds of things that draw people here to the fabulous North Beach.”
Sharon also realized she needed more than just what her garden produced, and soon contracted with “my Charlie guy” — Charlie’s Produce out of Seattle — to stock up on a full line of fresh products she could never possibly grow.
In 2010, the garage finally was completed and Voss Acres officially opened on May 6, 2011.
The first customer was Patti Dineen, who bought a pineapple. “As it turns out, the pineapple is a symbol of good luck,” Sharon said.
Voss Acres has spread that good luck with good will. This past year, Steve and Sharon have expanded to the newly remodeled Copalis Beach Grocery in the old Beach Tavern building left abandoned when a colorful local character passed away. When Steve bought the property, the idea was to remodel it and resell it. Sharon, however, had a different vision once all the rubble had been cleared from the 1,300 square foot building.
“It took us a year to clean it up, but this area just needed a store,” Sharon said. “Rice, beans, milk, butter — just real, common everyday needs.”
The Vosses have taken a community eyesore and turned it into a community asset.
“I am so thankful that the Voss operation of Copalis Crossing saw fit to come into Copalis Beach and bring us a much needed local store,” wrote longtime Copalis Crossing resident Phyllis Shaughnessy, who organizes the popular Lantern Lunch summer lunch program for North Beach children. “Long ago I was employed at Johnson’s Mercantile (the last store in Copalis Beach) and I saw the tremendous feeling that comes into a local store on a daily basis. It is an important part of the American heritage, a local community looking out for its own.”
Calhoun notes that Voss Acres Produce Market became a business member of Moclips by the Sea Historical Society soon after it opened. “Sharon has been extremely supportive of the museum by selling our annual North Beach Historical Calendars and tide books at her business,” Calhoun said.
She has donated numerous plants for the museum’s recently renovated historic 1927 Dorothy Anderson Cabin and garden located at Seabrook. She also has donated to the museum’s Heritage Fair fundraiser.
“A lot of us on the North Beach were very anxious to have a new grocery store on the North Beach. In the short time since they’ve been open, I’ve seen many customers at the Copalis Beach Grocery,” Calhoun said. “This was a much needed addition to the community.”
Sharon and Steve take a keen interest in being part of the North Beach community at large and supporting all local enterprises.
Asked what his favorite part of their homestead is, Steve doesn’t hesitate: “Probably the history more than anything.”
When he began to restore the building that is now Copalis Beach Grocery, Steve said he didn’t really know how much work it would take. The old roof had to be removed and replaced, the walls had to be uncovered: “It’s just one of those things. You do it for a living, so you are able to do it.”
Voss Acres, he notes, “was just about laying on the ground when I got it. The hardwood floors were like a rollercoaster. But I got in there and said, ‘I can fix that.’”
Sharon now has embraced the modern era of social media as a way to stay close to her customers far and wide, and she has documented the growth and the birth of the new store as well as Voss Acres. “You get out of it what you put into it. If you are positive, that’s generally what you get back,” she says.
Calhoun likens Sharon to a childhood friend: “She is someone you can always count on in good times or bad. Her appreciation and support to preserve our North Beach history just makes me like her even more. Sharon Voss is a North Beach treasure.”
Paying for the construction out of their own pocket and growing things organically and naturally are what make the Voss family a success. Sharon estimates the store itself might seem like a risky investment, and she lauds Newrizons Federal Credit Union of Hoquiam as being “the hidden gem” that backed the idea.
Sharon sees Voss Acres as a “bright spot on the road,” and her growing staff bolsters that enthusiasm. When she first opened, she used to stand out by the road and wave at people, hoping they might venture to stop and smell the produce. Now, people stop by as a destination and her staff has grown to include five people.
There are days when she wakes up and maybe doesn’t feel like working so hard. “But as soon as I walk in the door and start my routine, it all changes when that first person walks in,” Sharon says. “It’s like taking a shower on a cold day. You don’t really want to, but as soon as that warm water hits, you’re all good with it. The customers are really all that.
“My purpose is to feed people — make their lives easier so that they don’t have to go so far to acquire something to put on their dinner table.”
Copalis Beach Grocery is at 3090 State Route 109 in Copalis Beach.
The Voss Acres Produce Market is at 1683 Ocean Beach Road in Copalis Crossing.
Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday to Saturday
Sunday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.