Jill Graham can't say she didn't know what she was getting into.

"When I got married, I got a set of golf clubs as a wedding present from my husband," Graham said. The Grahams golf as much as they can, in between running the Gearhart Grocery. Graham said she isn't getting any better at golfing, but it's a lot of fun.

One of the few businesses that was in Gearhart in the 1970s, the grocery is a picture of the past with its "Mom and Pop" atmosphere, Graham said. Many children shop for their first time there.

"Candy is a big thing here," she said. "Not so much the eating of candy as the independence." Lost dogs often come to the grocery, mainly because staff hand out dog treats.

Though Graham was a middle-school teacher and husband Mike worked for Maxfli Golf, this is the hardest they have ever worked.

"The biggest lesson that we've learned by doing this is the struggles of small-business people and the belief that they make up America," Graham said. "It's a real struggle not to be swallowed up by the large Costcos, Wal-Marts, et cetera."

To make ends meet, the Grahams have added gourmet and seasonal items, a deli, catering and boutique wines. They specialize in small wineries.

"I think it's really important for the people in a community to support local businesses," Graham said. "But it's hard to do that, because it's more expensive."

Moving to their vacation home in Gearhart after a lifetime in Portland, South Carolina and California was akin to coming home for the Grahams, whose families have lived in the area for four generations.

"This is the way we could live where we wanted to live," Graham said. She enjoys leading a life less focused on possessions and knowing all her neighbors. She also raised a golden Labrador named Millie in the back of the store. When the Grahams lived close enough, "she would wander down to the store all the time."

However, the speed limits are frustrating to someone who drove a minimum of 80 mph on California highways. Graham swears her car is not built to go 20 mph. And she doesn't count how many hours she works in a week. She doesn't want to know.

But, after working for a school bureaucracy all her life, Graham enjoys making her own decisions. She taught art or language arts when she could and math when she had to.

"That was the first class you got when you were a new teacher and got the leftovers," she said.

Graham, who graduated from Marylhurst College near Lake Oswego, had one of the best calligraphers in the nation as a teacher. After art classes were canceled because of funding cuts, she included as much art as possible in her language arts class.

"I heard that we have another shortfall and they're going to cut back on music classes," Graham said. "It's just heartbreaking. With the parents working, a lot of kids don't have the chance to bake a cake with their moms or listen to music."

She enjoys the middle-school age group, though she spent a lot of time trying to separate the boys from their hats. The sophistication of the girls amazed her.

"They'd show up in these cute little ruffled outfits, and then overnight they'd show up in black fingernail polish, purple hair and all in black," she said.

Graham enjoys growing "whatever the deer won't eat." She also likes reading, arranging flowers and decorating her house. This comes in handy at the store, where her displays include very large plastic geese.

The Grahams aren't planning to retire any time soon. "There's nothing else we have a burning desire to do," Graham said. "We like it here, so I think we'll be here as long as we can make it a worthwhile business."

- Laurel Eddy