Debbie Gagnon: still packing, wrapping and posting after 20 years in the Towne Center

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Debby Gagnon, owner of Pack Wrap and Post in the Towne Center, isn’t the first person to compare Canyon Lake to Mayberry of Andy Griffith fame; but as the town “postmistress” for the past 20 years, she’s in a better position than anyone to know how close the resemblance really is.

A picture in the June 2, 1995 issue of The Friday Flyer shows Debby putting up the sign designating Pack Wrap and Post as an official U.S. Post Office.(File photo)

A picture in the June 2, 1995 issue of The Friday Flyer shows Debby putting up the sign designating Pack Wrap and Post as an official U.S. Post Office.(File photo)

According to wikipedia.com, Mayberry is a real community not far from Andy Griffith’s real boyhood home. And when he was young, the Mayberry Trading Post was home to the local post office. With cookies on the counter and a “Wall of Fame” containing pictures of hometown heroes, Debby’s Pack Wrap and Post has been the place to know and be known for the 20 years it has been an official U.S. Post Office. It’s also been a successful business in a town where few businesses have survived for the long haul.

Debby and her husband Donald moved to Canyon Lake in December 1986 as transplants from Redondo Beach. Debby says, “Part of why I fell in love with Canyon Lake, which you probably have heard me refer to as ‘Mayberry USA,’ is because we are Small Town USA. You can get involved in this community and, if you want to put in the time, you can make a difference.”

And that is what Debby has done – as a resident, as a business owner and as an organizer of numerous community events. At least twice she has been named “Volunteer of the Year” (2009 and 2012), though her community involvements began long before that.

But first, the question: How did she and her husband find Canyon Lake? Debby says Donald was driving from South Bay to San Diego on business one day when he stopped at the Union 76 gas station on Main St. in Lake Elsinore. He was chatting with the owner, Pete, who was very excited about a place called Canyon Lake and offered to give Donald a tour in his pickup truck.

With the birth of twins, Donald and Debby knew they needed a place bigger than their beach cottage, but they couldn’t find anything in their price range that wasn’t a fixer-upper. Donald immediately recognized that Canyon Lake had what they were looking for.

Debby says, “Donald grabbed me kicking and screaming to show me this ‘awesome place.’ It was hard for me to even consider moving out of the South Bay, as I was born and raised there, but I was more than a little impressed with what I saw in Canyon Lake.

Debby stands in front of her Wall of Fame, which contains pictures of such local heroes as Rhoni Barton, Tony Klarich, Scott Larson, Melissa Marquardt, Chip Foose, Bob Kielty, Joe Young, Tori Kelly, Chef Anton and Tony Arendt, to name a few. Photo by Amy Golding.

Debby stands in front of her Wall of Fame, which contains pictures of such local heroes as Rhoni Barton, Tony Klarich, Scott Larson, Melissa Marquardt, Chip Foose, Bob Kielty, Joe Young, Tori Kelly, Chef Anton and Tony Arendt, to name a few. Photo by Amy Golding.

She adds, “We were able to rent an incredible home on the Main Lake – here we were on the water, with a boat dock, and our rent was much less than our house payment. I loved all of the different looking houses and the fact that there was this incredible lake for boating, skiing and swimming. We eventually found a lot and built our own home.”

She and Donald owned an independent insurance adjusting firm, which they were able to relocate to their home in Canyon Lake and then to a space in the Towne Center. Next door to their office was Mail World, owned by Gil Navarro. When he decided to close his business, he asked Debby if she would be interested in taking over his mailboxes (there were 12 at the time).

She agreed, but at first, it was just a side business, with the insurance adjusting business and later construction being the family’s main sources of income. “Since I never intended to open up a mailing business, I was basically flying by the seat of my pants and learning on the way,” she says. She incorporated the mail boxes into a hobby business she had of wrapping and mailing gift packages. That business was called Pack Wrap and Post.

In the meantime, she had already begun making friends by joining the Jr. Women’s Club. She says, “It was one of the best groups to be a part of with small children. If you wanted to be part of the community, this was a really good place to start. I loved the entire feel of small town America that I got from this group and it was all family, community-oriented and, along the way, great friendships were made.

She also joined the Tennis Club where there were varying levels of skill among the players. She found that she fit right in and loved “tennis on the lake.” In 2005 she helped organize a tile-painting endeavor at South Paw Ceramics to create a tile wall similar to the one the Jr. Women’s Club had created at Sunset Beach (it’s an ongoing project). When she joined, the Tennis Club there were about 50 members. It now has closer to 200 members but still offers a welcoming atmosphere. Debby says she still plays at least once a week.

Another group that Debby has been integrally involved with for more than 20 years is the Canyon Lake Chamber of Commerce. One of the first Chamber Installation Dinners she ever attended was held in the banquet room at the old Lodge. She was awarded Business of the Year. Soon after, she was asked to be on the Chamber’s board of directors.

“I jumped on the Chamber bandwagon and never looked back,” she says. “It has always been about promoting local businesses and giving back to the community – two things very near and dear to me.

As a member of the Chamber board, two of the better known events Debby helped organize for many years were the annual Parade of Frights and the Towne Center Tree-Lighting. She and Joe Grasso were the ones to come up with the idea for the “tree of lights” that wraps around the City Hall flagpole each Christmas.

Debby also volunteered on the Fiesta Day Committee for a few years. As everyone who lives here knows, that is a huge endeavor and getting bigger all the time. She has served on the Emergency Preparedness Committee and has helped organize other miscellaneous events such as the “Taste of Paradise” fundraiser for the Heart to Heart Foundation.

In 2005, Debby helped organize a tile-painting party at South Paw Ceramics for residents who wanted to paint tiles for a wall at the Tennis Courts. Photo by Marti Norris.

In 2005, Debby helped organize a tile-painting party at South Paw Ceramics for residents who wanted to paint tiles for a wall at the Tennis Courts. Photo by Marti Norris.

When she learned that the City wanted to create a monument to honor veterans, Debby threw herself whole-heartedly into the Veterans Day Committee. The monument was unveiled during a special Veterans Day ceremony on November 11, 2011.

“It is amazing to think that the Veterans Committee, with its incredible leadership, was able to not only erect a fabulous monument, but change a little grassy area into a memorial park. That’s pretty awesome stuff,” Debby says.

With her special affinity for veterans, Debby took on another project for the City: helping to organize a Military Banner Program to honor local military members and veterans. It began last January with six banners hanging on Railroad Canyon Rd.; five new banners were added in May in the Towne Center. (Applications for military banners can be picked up at Pack Wrap and Post or City Hall.)

What Pack Wrap and Post Offers

As for Pack Wrap and Post and what it has to offer, Debby has created a winning combination of services that keeps customers coming back. It has been an official United States Contract Postal Unit since June 1995, providing mailboxes, certified and international mail services, registered mail, stamps and more. Costs are exactly the same as any U.S. Post Office.

It now has approximately 250 personal mailboxes, giving customers a street address with a box number. This allows customers to receive United States Postal Service (USPS) mail as well as shipments from UPS, FEDEX and other shipping providers.

Other services include price comparison for best shipping rates, notary, FAX (incoming and outgoing), document scanning and emailing, copies (color and black and white), packing/shipping supplies and stamps.

Debby loves everything there is to love about being a small businesses owner, saying, “Being able to put the nail in the wall wherever you want is a pretty great feeling. On the down side, it is all on you to make the ‘happy happen’ and some days this can be a bit overwhelming.”

She adds, “When I refer to Mayberry USA – well, let’s just say going into the post office is kind of like going to the local barber shop or hair salon. You hear many things – politics, religion, schools, POA, City – and everyone has an opinion. There are always the good, bad and ugly of customer moments. I am happy to say 99.9 percent of my customers are fabulous. I have had a few interesting/challenging customers, but that happens with any retail business.

Today, August 7, Debby is planning to celebrate her 20 years as the official Canyon Lake Post Office, so stop by, say hi, and check out that Wall of Fame.

Pack Wrap and Post is located in the back, southeast building of the Towne Center. It’s open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. After hour appointments are available for notary services. For more information, call 951-244-3519.

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Sharon Rice