For anyone who travels Highway 74 from Palm Desert to Idyllwild, the Lake Hemet Market is a landmark, one of few commercial respites between the desert communities and Idyllwild and the only market on the route.
Sadly, it is temporarily closed and will remain so until reopened under new management in March, according to Tom Wagoner, Lake Hemet Municipal Water District general manager.
Built in the 1960s, the market has served travelers and Lake Hemet campers. From inception until its recent closing late in 2014, it has been managed by a succession of families — first by rancher Ed Keys, then Oren Speir beginning in 1965 and finally by Alex and Carol Tomazin of Temecula beginning in late 2004. The market provided food and supplies for campers, as well as fishing supplies and firewood. Highway 74 travelers could stop for snacks, beverages and made-to-order sandwiches in a cozy, country-store environment.
When the market reopens in March 2015, it will be under corporate management of the California Parks Company, the recreation management company that since 2011 has managed Lake Hemet Campground under contract with the water district.
Wagoner said the Tomazins were given a year’s notice on their lease expiration and were also given an opportunity to bid on market and campground management when their lease expired.
“It was an open-bid situation,” said Alex. “We were bidding against other groups. I was the only individual. And we had market management experience but none running a campground.”
Ultimately, as Wagoner acknowledged, the Tomazins decided not to put in a proposal. “There wasn’t much I could do given the competition,” said Alex, who expressed gratitude to his loyal customers and cited the pleasures he and wife Carol had in forming friendships with so many of his regular customers.
Wagoner said a condition of the new lease with CPC was for them to complete certain named improvements within the next three years. Some of those improvements include a new roof, a “facelift” for the building while keeping the same rustic theme, and an outdoor deck to serve diners. Wagoner said CPC would conduct a feasibility study to consider installing a gas station on the north end of the property. If built, it would provide the only gasoline available from Palm Desert to Lake Hemet.
Wagoner noted that with combined market and campground management, there will be certain advantages for campers — soft drinks, sandwiches and fishing supplies at the lake’s marina as well as a grill for hot food. Also, CPC would now be able to sell firewood to campers, sale of which had previously been reserved to the Lake Hemet Market as a lease condition.
Wagoner noted that CPC provides hands-on management of the campground and will soon do the same for the market. Prior to 2011, LHMWD managed the campground. Wagoner said the district is pleased with the present arrangement under which CPC pays the district an annual base rent and a percentage of gross receipts. “We [the district] continue to have some responsibility for water and sewer, but other than for that we do not supervise them,” he said. “My understanding is that [CPC] will be putting some investment monies into the property and I am anxious for that to go forward.”
Given the new joint management of market and campground, Wagoner thought ticket sales might be managed differently to relieve occasional seasonal congestion at the gate, but that, too, would be up to CPC. CPC manages other facilities throughout the state including Diamond Valley Lake in Hemet, Vail Lake Resort on Highway 79 near Temecula, Death Valley National Park and Lassen Volcanic National Park.