Rocks in his head

Tom Sorols

Photo By Tom Angel

Ask Tom Sorols about rocks, and you’ll get an earful. He knows more about rocks and minerals than many geologists, which is part of the reason his shop, Tom’s Rocks and Gifts, on Main Street between 8th and 9th streets, is a popular field-trip destination for Chico schoolchildren. Plus the shop is full of beautiful stones polished to a fare-thee-well, as well as amazing fossils, petrified wood, crystals and other treasures. Rock cutting and polishing equipment as well as stone beads and jewelery are also for sale. Sorols is a burly, genial man in his mid-60s. He and his wife Barbara, who also works in the shop, live in Paradise.

How’d you get in this business?

Well, my wife’s brother was taking a lapidary class, and he asked me for a ride to the Nevada desert so he could collect some rocks. … When we got back, I could not believe what that rock looked like when he cut it open and polished it.

Was it a hobby at first?

Yes. I got some equipment and started by cutting stones and making door stops. Everybody who saw them wanted some. Then I started holding jewelry parties, like Tupperware parties.

When did you open the shop?

In 1980, and I’ve been learning something about rocks and minerals every day since. It’s like being in school every day of your life. It’s unending.

Do you go out looking for rocks?

Oh yeah. It’s a lot of fun to go out with a group, like out to the Nevada desert, camp out for a few days, explore ancient formations. My favorite places is eastern Oregon—lots of “thunder eggs” [volcanic mud balls] there, near the Idaho border. Locally, I go out to the Black Butte Reservoir area. It’s the site of an ancient ocean floor that pushed up. I find lots of jasper there.

How many kids come through your shop?

We get 45-50 classes a year, about 1,200 to 1,500 kids a year. I tell them, “These rocks are like books. You have to open them to see what’s inside.”

My son’s second-grade class came last week. He was fascinated by the petrified dinosaur dung.

[Chuckles.] It’s education. It’s learning.

Does being around old things so much help you keep the big picture in mind?

Absolutely. You’re dealing with stuff that’s millions and millions of years old, and we’re here what, 70 or 80 years? It does help you keep your perspective.