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Latest News in Ballico, CA

Merced County town hit with clean water shortage. How are officials responding?

Update:Residents in the Merced County town of Ballico are advised not to drink the water after a mechanical failure at the well which supplies the community.According to Tricia Wathen, section chief of the State Water Resources Control Board Division of Drinking Water Central California, the board was notified Saturday that a Ballico Community Services District well failed on Friday afternoon.Wathen said the problem is believed to be mechanical, and is expected to be repaired once parts are available. &ldqu...

Update:

Residents in the Merced County town of Ballico are advised not to drink the water after a mechanical failure at the well which supplies the community.

According to Tricia Wathen, section chief of the State Water Resources Control Board Division of Drinking Water Central California, the board was notified Saturday that a Ballico Community Services District well failed on Friday afternoon.

Wathen said the problem is believed to be mechanical, and is expected to be repaired once parts are available. “From what I understand, they only had one source of supply that they can work with,” said Wathen.

The community worked with Merced County Office of Emergency Services and a local school to connect water to the system from the school’s irrigation well.

This water supplied to the system is temporary and for sanitation reasons, allowing residents to flush toilets and shower. According to Wathen, it is advised that members of community not drink the water in the system at this time.

Wathen said that when there is no water in the system such as that in Ballico, bacteria can be introduced. It is currently unknown when the system will be fixed and operational. Wathen said the timeline of returning water service to the 72 service connections and roughly 250 residents also depends on multiple rounds of bacteriological testing.

Wathen said the first step is getting the pump fixed. Once that is completed, two rounds of bacteriological testing must be completed.

Once water is restored to the system, it must pass two rounds of bacteriological testing. According to Wathen, it is all dependent on how quickly the well can be repaired.

Earlier report:

Bottled water has been supplied for residents of Ballico who have been affected by a water outage, according to the County of Merced.

In a social media post Sunday, the county said that due to a recent clear water shortage in Ballico, water is being provided to the affected residents at no cost.

It is unclear at this time what caused the outage. According to Merced County Spokesperson Mike North, water from a Turlock Irrigation District well has been backfilled into the system as a temporary solution until the district’s well is once again operational.

North said that until further notice, it is recommended that residents follow the boil notice as instructed by their water district.

Bottled water is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at the Tri-Tipery, located at 11359 Newport Road in Ballico. According to the county, this will be extended if necessary.

Should residents need water after 2 p.m., water will be available at Ballico Fire Station 92, 11284 Ballico Ave., and residents can contact the station if they require assistance, according to North.

This story was originally published July 25, 2022 12:08 PM.

California school district sues Dow and Shell over cancer-causing chemical in water

The Ballico-Cressey School District, a small school district in a rural stretch of northern Merced County, is suing corporate giants Dow Chemical and Shell Oil.The lawsuit, filed on March 30 in Merced County Superior Court, alleges that the big companies manufactured and sold agricultural fumigants containing the toxic chemical 1,2,3-TCP, or 1,2,3-Trichloropropane, that were sprayed on nearby fields surrounding the school district, polluting Cressey Elementary School’s water supply.“This is an effort to hold these c...

The Ballico-Cressey School District, a small school district in a rural stretch of northern Merced County, is suing corporate giants Dow Chemical and Shell Oil.

The lawsuit, filed on March 30 in Merced County Superior Court, alleges that the big companies manufactured and sold agricultural fumigants containing the toxic chemical 1,2,3-TCP, or 1,2,3-Trichloropropane, that were sprayed on nearby fields surrounding the school district, polluting Cressey Elementary School’s water supply.

“This is an effort to hold these companies accountable,” said Kenneth Sansone, attorney at SL Environmental Law Group who is representing the school district. “We want to make sure the companies who created the mess and profited from it are the ones who pay to clean it up.”

The Ballico-Cressey School District is seeking damages and other relief associated with the dangerous chemical found in Shell Oil’s and Dow Chemical’s agricultural sprays, according to the complaint. The complaint also asks for Dow and Shell to pay “an amount sufficient to punish manufacturer defendants and to deter them from ever committing the same or similar acts.”

According to a press release issued on April 5 about the lawsuit, more than 70 communities, utility providers and water service agencies have sued Dow, Shell and other companies that made or sold pesticides containing TCP. In the last year, three other school districts in the San Joaquin Valley sued Shell and Dow, including the McSwain Unified Elementary School District, the Selma Unified School District and Manteca Unified School District.

“The taxpayers of the Ballico-Cressey School District should not be forced to pay to clean up water pollution caused by defective products that made Dow and Shell millions and millions of dollars,” said Bliss Propes, the superintendent of the Ballico-Cressey School District. “This lawsuit will help to hold these corporations accountable for the damage their TCP-contaminated pesticides have caused to one of the community’s most precious resources.”

The press release goes on to allege that TCP was a waste product of other chemicals manufactured by Dow and Shell. Products containing TCP were marketed and sold as pesticides until the 1980s and used throughout the state to control nematodes, or microscopic worms that infest the roots of plants. These pesticides were injected into the soil, and the TCP would make its way through the soil to the water table below, contaminating water supplies.

The Ballico-Cressey complaint also goes on to say that the companies that manufactured the dangerous chemical and the pesticides that contained it knew how dangerous 1,2,3-TCP was, or at least should have known. The Ballico-Cressey School District also alleges that the manufacturers of the chemical should have known how dangerous TCP would be to drinking water supplies, specifically. Representatives of Shell and Dow could not be reached for comment.

The chemical was designated an unregulated contaminant after it was discovered at a hazardous waste site in Burbank in the 1990s, according to the State Water Resources Control Board. Studies showed that 1,2,3-TCP causes cancer in lab animals and is a carcinogen, or cancer-causing chemical, in humans, as well.

1,2,3-TCP is also known to cause blood disorders and liver and kidney damage, according to the civil complaint. The state water board subsequently started to require a drinking water notification level of .005 micrograms per liter for 1,2,3-TCP in 1999, according to the State Water Resources Control Board.

The state also started to require monitoring of the chemical in drinking water sources once it was found to have polluted multiple drinking water sources across the state. The civil complaint states the California Office of Environmental Health limit for 1,2,3-TCP is 7 parts per trillion, although the state water board set the maximum contaminant level at 5 parts per trillion. At 5-9 parts per trillion, the well tested near Cressey Elementary School has more than the allowable amount of the chemical by these measures.

“The manufacturers of TCP products had a duty – and breached their duty – to evaluate and test such products adequately and thoroughly to determine their environmental fate and potential human health and environmental impacts before they produced and sold such products,” the complaint reads. “As a result of these failures, TCP contaminated, and continues to contaminate, the drinking water supply of the plaintiff’s water system.”

This isn’t the first time the San Joaquin Valley pushed back on TCP in pesticides made and sold by the corporate behemoths. Atwater city officials found 1,2,3-TCP in some of the city’s wells in 2019, and cleanup efforts started almost immediately.

That was also the year Atwater won $63 million in net settlement proceeds from Shell and Dow because the two companies didn’t disclose that TCP was contained in nematicide, the pesticide used to kill nematodes. Nematicide was often used on agricultural fields near Atwater. New systems to filter out the chemical were completed in August 2021.

Livingston, too, got a windfall in 2011 from a $9 million settlement from Dow Chemical, Dow AgroSciences, Shell Oil Co. and Wilbur Ellis Co. That lawsuit was filed in 2005 after it was discovered that Livingston’s wells were contaminated with TCP. The city later installed a $2.3 million filtration system.

The Ballico-Cressey School District owns and operates its own water system, and after school officials started testing for 1,2,3-TCP in their wells, found 5-9 parts per trillion of the chemical in one of their wells – what amounts to a few grains of sand in an Olympic-sized pool, the district’s lawyer said.

However, such a seemingly small amount can do a lot of damage.

“The problem with contaminants in drinking water in a well is that generally, people are going to be drinking large quantities of water from that well over time,” Sansone said. “So aggregate amounts of contaminants in those people is a concern.”

This chemical doesn’t just go away, either, Sansone said. TCP doesn’t deteriorate or dissipate quickly over time, even in water.

“Once TCP gets into the groundwater, it would be expected to stay there for a very long time,” Sansone said. “The only way it will come out or be diminished is if it is pumped out of the water supply. We’ve seen cases that can take as many as 30 or 40 years just for TCP to reach the water table after application.”

To filter out the carcinogen after the 2018 testing, Ballico-Cressey school officials installed drinking water filters in the water fountains at Cressey Elementary School, which is located near the well where 1,2,3-TCP was found – what Sansone calls a short-term solution.

“The district plans on installing a specialized water treatment system to remove TCP from the entire water supply at the school,” Sansone told the Sun-Star.

The water treatment system is the district’s long-term solution, Sansone said. It is estimated to cost $1 million, and the district is already working with an engineering firm on the design of the system. However, full implementation is still “far down the road,” Sansone said.

Sansone added one of the best resolutions for the district and the companies in the case would be to settle, although whether or not that will happen remains to be seen.

“At this point, it’s difficult to say,” Sansone said. “We’re just getting started.”

A Proud California Dairy Farmer Battles for Survival in Wildly Uncertain Times

After 67 years of living and breathing dairy farming in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Scott Magneson cannot, will not, stop.Every morning before dawn, when the valley fog is still resting on his fields in thick clouds, he checks the barns. Then he starts on the to-do list, which outlasts the day. In another farm tradition, Magneson rarely leaves his land. He can’t remember the last time he and his wife Pat (who does the bookkeeping) took a vacation.Magneson, a big, ruddy-faced man who has earned his broad shoulde...

After 67 years of living and breathing dairy farming in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Scott Magneson cannot, will not, stop.

Every morning before dawn, when the valley fog is still resting on his fields in thick clouds, he checks the barns. Then he starts on the to-do list, which outlasts the day. In another farm tradition, Magneson rarely leaves his land. He can’t remember the last time he and his wife Pat (who does the bookkeeping) took a vacation.

Magneson, a big, ruddy-faced man who has earned his broad shoulders, is working all he can to ensure his farm—with 600 Holsteins, 500 acres, and 12 full and part-time workers—survives wildly uncertain times.

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Two years ago, in a major conservation move, he added a $560,000 manure management and composting system, paid for by a state grant for “climate smart” agriculture projects. It’s a hopeful investment for the future, against the odds. Even before the coronavirus blindsided the world and upended the food delivery system, the iconic American family farm was already in crisis, its ranks shrinking before his eyes.

When Magneson was growing up, the vast dairy lands of Merced County, two hours south of San Francisco, stretched to the horizon. Everyone farmed. It was always hard work, but also proud. These days, farmers are spent. The decades-long decline in multi-generational family farms is quickening. Studies blame climate change, at least partly. Record heat, severe drought, biblical floods and historic wildfires are hitting too hard, too often, for farms to recover from the blows.

Ironically, dairy farms, a significant source of climate-changing emissions in the form of methane gas from cow effusions, are failing the fastest. Besides freakish weather events, they are being pummeled by declining milk prices, rising production costs, trade war tariffs on milk exports and the growth in mega dairies.

More than half the nation’s dairies have disappeared in the last 15 years, dropping from more than 70,000 to just over 34,000. Last year, 3,281 dairy farms disappeared, the largest annual drop since 2004. California, the top dairy state, lost 80 farms last year and more than 800 in the last 20 years, leaving 1300.

Despite the precipitous drop in family farms, the number of milk cows has ticked up. Farm closures are fueling consolidations, creating industrial operations with several thousand cows. The largest in the country thus far, 75 miles north of Chicago, has 30,000 cows.

A grim consequence of the farm failures is suicides. Dairy farmers are killing themselves at twice the rate of veterans and five times that of the general public.

The coronavirus, still playing out, is adding to the disaster for family farms, even with Federal and local farm aid. In dramatic videos, the world has watched farmers dumping thousands of gallons of milk because their primary customers, schools and businesses, were locked down. The dramatic, literal loss of their product underscores their dire predicament. Even milk producers who haven’t had to spill a drop of milk, Magneson included, have written off the year in red ink. .

Magneson has lost 20 percent of his business since the pandemic lockdowns, sold 30 of his cows and has been forced to sell his milk, which is organic, at a loss.

“Every once in a while, I’ve thought about doing something else,” he said, shrugging. He was walking through a barn with his son Jake, 27, as cows poked their heads through stalls to watch them.

Jake works on the farm too, handling complicated paperwork such as grant applications for projects to reduce the farm’s methane emissions. A 2016, California law requires livestock farms to cut methane emissions by 40 percent of 2013 levels by 2030—with dairy farms bearing 75 percent of the burden.

To help meet the state’s ambitious goal to drastically reduce its greenhouse gases, California launched the country’s first “Climate Smart Agriculture Programs” in 2014. Four programs provide funds, education and support for farmers committed to cleaner, greener land conservation, water efficiency, healthy soils and alternative manure management.The programs, launched by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (C.D.F.A.), are so popular, that two to three times as many farmers have applied than the program can sustain.

Jake’s application for the manure solids separator landed the farm one of the state’s first Alternative Manure Management Program (or AMMP) grants in 2017. (Scott Magneson describes the project in this C.D.F.A. video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=537nfqC_q2U).

Their elaborate system looks like a giant sized Rube Goldberg machine, but all the parts serve the same purpose—to reduce waste, create organic compost to use on the land, provide bedding for the cows and create richer, more productive soil.

“Thank goodness we have politicians who believe in science,“ Scott Magneson said, referring to California’s former governor Jerry Brown and Gov. Gavin Newsom. He was running his fingers through clean compost heaps as if they were gold.

His dairy is setting the example for how dairies can reduce their pollution impacts, improve animal welfare, cut waste and become more resilient, said Renata Brillinger, executive director of the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN).

“What I see with Scott Magneson’s farm is what the future of climate friendly sustainable agriculture can look like,” she said. “You have better conditions for the animals, better conditions for the farmers and farmworkers. Better air quality, better water quality and the production of compost, which is a really valuable product.”

The typical way farmers handle manure is to flush their cows’ stalls out into lagoons or ponds. The solids settle to the bottom and float throughout the water, then become anaerobic. That manure decomposes and off-gases methane.

Even the most sustainable farms still use lagoons, Brillinger said, because of the cost of solid separators and dairy digesters, which convert manure into fuel. Dairy digesters, used by only 12 farms in California, trap methane before it reaches the atmosphere and convert it to natural gas. The digesters are controversial among environmentalists because one-quarter of the emissions that contribute to global warming come from natural gas, which can leak from pipelines and do untold damage.

The way the Magnesons handle manure these days is to flush the stalls out into settling ponds, then pull some of the solids out of the pond. After running them through the separator, the solids drop it down to a compost pad. The ponds are left with much cleaner water that can be reused.

The Magnesons also bought a compost pack barn with their grant. Like luxury hotels for lactating cows, compost pack barns, still rare in California, house cows in large open resting areas, usually bedded with sawdust or dry, fine wood shavings, with manure composted into place and mechanically stirred on a regular basis. The cows have access to indoor and outdoor areas.

The climate smart agriculture programs may be a hit, but funding is in jeopardy. With California facing an up to $54 billion deficit, several projects, including the alternative manure management program, may not be funded next year.

The program is funded by California’s cap-and-trade program, in which major polluters have emissions quotas that ratchet down over the years. To comply, they can either cut their emissions or buy allowances from others as offsets. They pay into the program based on their emissions. But this pandemic year, with fuel use and production down, the money in the fund has been drastically reduced, from a usual $600 to $800 million in the first quarter of the year to $25 million.

The dairy industry fought for years to spare farms from being forced to help mitigate the environmental impact of their milk producers. But the Magnesons fully support the efforts. Even before Brown made reducing climate change his signature issue, Scott Magneson began making changes to the farm to lessen its environmental load. .

In 2004, he put a permanent concrete easement on the property, which sits on the banks of the Merced River, a move conservationists recommend to protect clean water and preserve open space. He converted the farm to organic production in 2008 for healthier milk, cows and soil.

In truth, Magneson has never really considered quitting the farm. One major reason is his son, whom he expects to lead the farm someday. His father and his father’s father are other reasons.

Preserving his legacy still means something. The Magneson Dairy, deep in California’s most prolific growing region, has been part of the landscape of crops and cows on the banks of the Merced River for 120 years. His mother, who is over 90, still lives there. So does Jake, who attended nearby Stanislaus State University and never considered another career. (He majored in philosophy.)

In unincorporated Ballico, a town in name only, two hours south of San Francisco where the whiff of manure is a given, no one knows a time when the Magneson Dairy didn’t exist. To Magneson, it’s a sacred trust. None of his siblings—three sisters and three brothers—were interested in taking over when their father was ready to hand them the keys to the farm.

He’s got a sure successor in his son. He and his wife are taking care of their two grandsons, 6 and 11, who already know a lot about how the farm operates. They might become the fifth generation to run the farm, or at least own a piece of it.

“I’ve seen a thousand farms go,” he said, letting out a sigh of mourning for his brethren. “What we’re doing is to ensure we don’t end up like them.”

Reporter, San Francisco

Evelyn Nieves is a former staff writer for the New York Times, The Washington Post and The Associated Press.

If you tri-tip, they will come. Ballico’s Tri-Tipery adds food truck and Escalon site

If I’ve learned one thing while living in the Central Valley for the past 20 years, it is that there can never be too much tri-tip.That simple philosophy coupled with a desire to promote and serve the area’s agricultural community has spurred a big expansion for The Tri-Tipery, which specializes in — you guessed it — tri-tip. Based in Ballico, the restaurant has added a second location just outside of Escalon and a new food truck that hit t...

If I’ve learned one thing while living in the Central Valley for the past 20 years, it is that there can never be too much tri-tip.

That simple philosophy coupled with a desire to promote and serve the area’s agricultural community has spurred a big expansion for The Tri-Tipery, which specializes in — you guessed it — tri-tip. Based in Ballico, the restaurant has added a second location just outside of Escalon and a new food truck that hit the road this week.

The Ballico site, about 10 miles south of Turlock just over the Merced County line, opened in 2016. Husband-and-wife owners Rob and Jana Nairn build the open-air restaurant next to their other business, Ag Link, which promotes the state’s farm-fresh products. As their restaurant fare grew in popularity, they heard from fans who wished the rural spot was a little closer to home.

Last year, they started expanding with a temporary pop-up restaurant in Turlock. But now they’ve opened their second permanent place just outside of Escalon on Highway 120, about six miles west of Oakdale. And their brand new food truck debuted this week in Hilmar and Turlock.

“We are limited in what we’re going to be able to do in Ballico because we’re so far out. So we decided to go to them,” said Rob Nairn. “Most people who have a food truck want a restaurant. Well, we had a restaurant and wanted a food truck.”

The food truck had its maiden voyage this past week with stops in Hilmar and Merced that had lines down the block. They are currently permitted only in Merced County, but should be approved for Stanislaus County by early May. They then plan to have regular weekly stops in Hilmar, Merced and Modesto, as well as bringing the truck to special events across the region.

The truck, which they had built new for them in Southern California, is wrapped to look like The Tri-Tipery’s signature wood siding from its Ballico site. It has a more limited menu than the restaurants, with about eight sandwiches, burgers and salads to choose from. They include two of their most popular dishes, the Wagon Wheel (tri-tip on a a garlic bread roll) and Fifty-Fifty (tri-tip plus pork belly and coleslaw on a bun).

Meanwhile, the full menu is being served at its Escalon site, called The Tri-Tipery @120. Like the Ballico site, the location is rural, in between orchards and fields. But it also benefits from steady traffic going to Oakdale, the foothills and Yosemite National Park.

The Nairns bought the building in October and in March had their soft open, serving lunch and dinners Friday through Sunday. They plan to start extensive interior and exterior renovations in May, which will include a facelift with the same wood siding as the Ballico site, and building of a full commercial kitchen and adding a covered outdoor patio for dining.

Currently, the site has picnic tables set up for al fresco dining. Unlike the Ballico location, the Escalon Tri-Tipery also has indoor seating, which will be expanded once the remodeling is complete. They plan to keep the restaurant open through most of the work, which they hope to have done by late July or early August.

And, again, about that food. The restaurants use only prime grade tri-tip, which is seasoned and smoked. Rob Nairn began cooking tri-tip while at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, as part of the school’s weekly Crops Club. It’s there the couple actually met and started seeing each other. The tri-tip on the menu is served up several ways, from the traditional Wagon Wheel sandwich to ground up in a burger and made into a French dip. They plan to add a tri-tip Philly cheese steak soon as well.

“It all starts with good-quality ingredients, that’s how you get a good-quality product,” Rob Nairn said.

You can find The Tri-Tipery Food Truck from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Hilmart Auto Parts on Lander Avenue on Thursdays, Garton Tractor on South Highway 59 in Merced on Fridays and, starting in mid-May, J.S. West Propane Gas on D Street in Modesto on Tuesdays. The truck will be at the Knights Ferry Peddler’s Fair Sunday, April 29, and RE/MAX Executive on Standiford Avenue in Modesto May 8 for Kid’s Day.

The Tri-Tipery in Escalon, at 29250 Highway 120, is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. For more information visit www.tritipery.com or call 209-634-8849 for the Ballico site or 209-620-6042 for Escalon.

This story was originally published April 28, 2018 3:48 PM.

2 Valley men become millionaires after buying winning lottery tickets

MERCED COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Two Valley men on opposite ends of the Valley have one thing in common - they've both suddenly become millionaires.In the North Valley, Ramon Gonzalez got his $5 million jackpot from a Golden State Riches Scratchers ticket he picked up at Cressey Store in Merced County.In the South Valley, Armando Hernandez Robles won $2 million after scratching an Instant Prize Crossword Scratchers he bought at Pixley Gas in Tulare County.Cressey Store owner Indarpal Mann chuckled and said, "It puts ...

MERCED COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Two Valley men on opposite ends of the Valley have one thing in common - they've both suddenly become millionaires.

In the North Valley, Ramon Gonzalez got his $5 million jackpot from a Golden State Riches Scratchers ticket he picked up at Cressey Store in Merced County.

In the South Valley, Armando Hernandez Robles won $2 million after scratching an Instant Prize Crossword Scratchers he bought at Pixley Gas in Tulare County.

Cressey Store owner Indarpal Mann chuckled and said, "It puts us on the map."

Creesey, California, is a small town of approximately 400 people, with a train track running right through the city.

This Cressey store is owned by the Manns - a family trying to stay afloat in this challenging economy, but now they have a winning ticket making this little town feel big.

Each store will earn a bonus for selling the winning ticket. The Cressey store will get $25,000 which they hope to use for renovations. Pixley Gas will get a $10,000 bonus.

Mann said, "We get something out of it. It definitely helps the business - it definitely helps the lottery sales. A lot of people have been buying the bigger priced tickets."

Richard Sears stops in twice a day. He said he just wasn't lucky that day.

"I try and play the same numbers all the time, hoping that sooner or later it will hit like that. I've won like maybe two to five dollars and the mega number but nothing big," Spears said.

He left the store with Pacman Scratchers. He said, "I got one of each".

Throughout the store, there were signs that read 'Millionaire Made Here'.

Where luck struck in two small towns, Richard Holsapple said he literally missed out on a fortune by minutes. Holsapple walked through the door and said, "I was that close to being a millionaire."

Holsapple told ABC30 he lives next and was almost the winner of that lucky ticket.

"Sergey told me...he goes 'Hey a guy just won 5 million.' I go, 'No way - on what?' "He got the Bear ticket". I go, 'No way ...that's the ticket that I passed up.' And he bought that ticket right after me," said Holsapple.

Now the hope is that this luck doesn't run out. Mann said, "Hopefully we get more winners."

According to the California Lottery, its employees continue to serve an essential government function, providing supplemental funding to the state's public schools, colleges, and universities. The California Lottery is celebrating its 35th anniversary this month, highlighting the more than $37 billion raised for public education since October of 1985.

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