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Centerpiece : Reading Between the Signs : Grocery store bulletin boards give people a forum for selling services or just reaching out to others.

March 31, 1994|LEO SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It read, simply: "A loving mother will baby-sit in your T.O. home."

That was it, except for a phone number. But there seemed to be an urgency in the note tacked to the community bulletin board outside Ralphs supermarket on East Moorpark Road in Thousand Oaks--perhaps it was the three other ads, all identical to the first, and within several feet of one another on the wall.

A passing glance at the board wouldn't cause one to stop and consider the fate of this "loving mother." She fought for attention amid a crowd.

There was the "Lost Grey Schnauzer" named Frea, who disappeared while on a visit from Nevada; Ken Gresiak's Crystal Clear Pool & Spa Service, and various earthquake repair and inspection operations.

"Do you know anyone who has a health concern? (High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, asthma, etc?)" The ad said, "50 people are needed immediately for a Doctor Recommended Advanced Nutrition program. Satisfaction is guaranteed. Call now!"

A guy named Dinu was trying to sell an '81 Honda Accord with "new tires, brakes and drive shaft, rebuilt transmission and radiator." But it did need some power steering work. Dinu informed prospective buyers that he "must sell immediately, moving out of state."

"For Sale," called another ad. "Cradle, rocker, play pen, rocker horse, umbrella carriage, walker, potty seat and more." Some ads needed little explanation.

Community bulletin boards, like bus terminals, are about people: people in flux, people seeking change or people just looking to make some money. And people reaching out to other people.

"In a world in which we have fewer formal places for people to gather, they choose informal ways of communication," said Marie Butler, professor of sociology at Oxnard College. "Bulletin boards are a way people can communicate with each other."

We spent a week chasing down ads at the bulletin board at Ralphs in Thousand Oaks, one of the busier boards in Ventura County. It is not owned by the store, but by TV Fanfare Publications, a 42-year-old Valencia-based company.

TV Fanfare has been in the business of community bulletin boards--or, as folks there refer to them, Market Information Centers, since 1966. The company rents the boards to area merchants. "We're at most of the major grocery chains," said Tom Tudman, the company's senior vice president.

"They are very popular with people in the community who are not only looking for a place to rent, or selling their refrigerators," said Keith Sonne, TV Fanfare vice president, "but also for baby-sitting jobs, lost bikes, all sorts of community events where they would otherwise have to take out an ad in the paper or clutter up a window."

Sonne said the company has boards in 42 states. He estimated that upward of 14,000 people will pass a single grocery store bulletin board each week.

We were among the throngs passing the bulletin board in Thousand Oaks, hoping to get to know some of the people behind the pushpins.

'House Cleaning With a Touch of Class'

Want to see a grown man jump for joy?

Mention "porcini mushrooms" to Adriano Bertolotti and he's liable to get a tear in his eye. He'll most definitely share with you the virtues of the aromatic Italian fungi--how wonderful they are in a tomato-based lasagna sauce.

Bertolotti, a resident of Wood Ranch, depends on the virtues of the mushroom for the success of his enterprising "Clean and or Cook" service.

His business card was among the more attractive on the Ralphs bulletin board. It certainly was the most intriguing, with its silhouette of a man in sweater and tie, vacuuming alongside the slogan "House Cleaning Service With a Touch of Class."

That class comes in the form of reasonably priced gourmet meals that Bertolotti prepares for clients, if they desire, with or without a house-cleaning.

"This appeals to working couples in particular. It's nice for them to come home to a clean house and have a gourmet meal prepared for them. I'm like a third member of the family," he said. "The kind of people I meet run the gamut--professionals, doctors, dentists, people in the movie industry. They say, 'Oh Adriano, what are you going to cook for me this week?' "

Bertolotti, 43, took over the business (formerly called "Clean and Cook," he added the "or") from his mother, Anna, in 1992. He had relocated to the United States from the Caribbean as his mother was heading home to Italy to care for Bertolotti's terminally ill grandmother.

"My mother can cook anything," said Bertolotti. "She can look in your cabinets and make a gourmet meal out of whatever is there." And it's his mother who keeps Bertolotti supplied with porcini, which she sends from Italy by UPS.

Son credits mother and grandmother for passing along the family culinary skills. Growing up in Parma, Italy, and later in Montreal, Canada, he was taught to prepare elaborate meals. After graduating from college in Montreal, he headed for the Cayman Islands, he said, where for a while he and his buddies owned some restaurants.

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