There are no trendy salad bars, no upscale deli, no yuppie gourmet yogurt. But the small independent grocery market survives, offering fresh produce, quality meat and a guarantee to remember your name.
Scattered throughout the San Fernando Valley, these small corner markets cling to a time before supermarkets and mini-marts when housewives in June Cleaver pearls and swirling housecoats would do the weekly shopping.
Today, faced with a shrinking number of customers due to the large chain supermarkets, these markets continue to cater to their neighborhood clientele by offering personal attention and merchandise not usually available in larger stores.
They may be short on glitz, but these cozy markets make up for it with customer service.
"We are mostly customer service-oriented," said Alan Arzoian, owner of Handy Market in Burbank. "We try to offer our customers quality. We try to give them a fair price and try to get to know them by their first name."
He has owned the neighborhood store for 22 years. His father, Harry, started in the grocery business right after World War II and the family has been in the business ever since.
Eddie Younan recently took over the Paradise Ranch Market in Van Nuys from Brian Money and plans to continue to run it as a family-owned market. He and his brother, Bob, hope to attract customers by promising "better service and lowering prices on things that can be reduced, like produce."
Other markets use the same strategy. Archie's Ranch Market in North Hollywood has been a fixture in the community for 27 years and now serves a mostly Latino population. Manager Don MacDonald competes with the major chains by ordering grocery items not usually available in larger stores, such as beef lips and tripe. He also is a stickler for personal attention.
"We give them better service and a better variety," MacDonald said. "The customers have a name. Here, they're not just a number."
Catering to the special grocery needs of his community, Roberto Rodriguze, owner of Food Bag Market in North Hollywood for 15 years, offers items from most South and Central American countries.
Owners keep their costs as low as possible by doing as much work themselves as they can.
Rodriguze is proud of his low-cost fresh produce. "The reason why I can keep a low overhead is that I go downtown myself and buy it and bring it out," he said. "That way I can save a lot and pass it on to my customers.'
Most owners admit to a 12-hour, seven-day workweek, but few complain.
"We're multi-generational here," Arzoian said. "One of my father's biggest interests is keeping his store open for his grandkids."
According to Everett Dingwell, president of the Certified Growers Assn., which provides many independent stores with most of their stock, the smaller grocers fulfill a community need.
"The strength of the independent grocer is to be responsive to the neighborhood: The clientele that is there in the neighborhood and their particular needs, both from a service point of view and a product point of view," Dingwell said.
Reputation is built largely by word of mouth. Some markets become meeting places for the neighborhood, harking back to another era.
Time seems to run slower here as the lone checker takes time to laugh with a customer she knows on sight. Butchers stand behind the meat counter waiting for special orders. Hand-painted signs announce specials and discounts. The aisles are short and narrow.
Few have scanners at the check stands. Most products are hand-priced and are rung up on the register. And most everyone is greeted by name.
Doris Masterani has been shopping at Handy Market for a long time. She goes to no other store.
"It's friendly and has everything I want," she says, not showing any identification when she cashes a check. "Plus you know everybody. If I don't see what I want, I'll tell them and they'll even order a whole case just for me.
"Now that's the kind of service you don't get everywhere."