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Marriage Shows Some Shelf Life

The Neses will celebrate their 70th anniversary on the job at the family store.

January 29, 2003|George Ramos | Times Staff Writer

Louis and Rose Nese are a throwback to a Los Angeles of another age, when hard work by all family members was a given.

They remember when goats, not ballplayers, roamed Chavez Ravine. They remember when Broadway was partly a dirt road and when Chinatown was a flourishing Italian neighborhood.

So it will be no surprise today that the Neses will spend their 70th wedding anniversary doing what they always do -- working at their family store in Highland Park.

"I'll keep an eye on the customers," 93-year-old Louis said Tuesday.

"I'll be in the back working," said Rose, 90, nodding from a rear counter at the store, where she makes deli sandwiches, Italian salads and other customer favorites.

Louis Nese came in as a partner at the store, then named Galco's Imported Grocery, in 1940, when it was on the corner of Castellar and Ord streets in Chinatown.

The store, founded in 1897, was named for the two men, referred to by the Neses as "Mr. Galioto" and "Mr. Cortopassi," who opened it near the present-day intersection of Vermont Avenue and Pico Boulevard.

Within a year, the two moved Galco's to Chinatown, where it remained until 1955. Then the Neses, having taken over the store, moved it to the 5700 block of York Boulevard in Highland Park and continued to operate it as an Italian grocery and deli.

In 1970, the store was renamed Galco's Old World Grocery. The "Old World" part has special meaning to the Neses. "That's what we were," Louis said.

In recent years, son John Nese, 59, has turned the grocery store on its head. He dropped most of the Italian grocery products and produce and began stocking out-of-date and hard-to-find sodas.

Over the last eight years, the soda stock has grown to 425 brands, including some kosher specialties. John Nese even came up with a new name for the store -- Galco's Soda Pop Stop. It even has its own Web site, www.sodapopstop.com.

John Nese's daughter, Noelle Nese, 31, said she wants to see the business continue on indefinitely. "How could you not keep up something after they started it?" she asked.

At times, the idea of specializing in hard-to-find sodas in old-style 12-ounce bottles seems a bit strange to Louis Nese.

"You need some olive oil and tomatoes in here," he growled recently.

"No, Dad," replied son John. "We're doing just fine."

Customers seem to agree. And it's not just the sodas that bring them back. "I've been coming here for years because the owners are so nice," said Alan Pinal, 56, of Highland Park.

And so on Tuesday, in the aisles stacked high with Nehi Orange, Bubble Up, Manhattan Special Espresso Coffee soda and Smoothie Cocoa-Bean Chocolate Soda, Louis and Rose talked about their lives together and Los Angeles.

Their Italian immigrant families lived next door to each other in Chavez Ravine and were already intertwined by home country, religion and common interests when Louis and Rose were born in their respective homes on old Lookout Drive.

"We even had a gate between our two homes, so we were already friendly," Rose recalled.

Rose says that by age 12, she knew she would someday marry the boy next door.

As for Louis, "I was pretty wild in those days," he allows.

When the young couple did decide to marry, it seemed logical to everyone who knew them: They were both Catholics, the American-born offspring of hard-working families of Italian descent, and they shared a commitment to family and home.

"I took care of the home and he took care of the job," Rose said. "We respected each other. We've had a good life."

Their wedding day in 1933 is still clear in their minds. "It rained like hell," Rose said. Louis nodded, "I was lucky to have her."

But just six months after their wedding in a church in Lincoln Heights, their marriage seemed in trouble when Louis suddenly announced he was going to work in China.

"I have a great opportunity," he told stunned family members.

Rose's mother had a different take. She told Louis Nese: "I'm not going to watch your wife while you're gone to China. So you'd better get a divorce now."

Louis Nese stayed in Los Angeles.

In the ever-changing landscape that is L.A., the couple don't care about the Dodgers, compact discs or movie stars.

Their view of life, family and community is mirrored in Rose's answer when asked what she thought the biggest change in the city has been.

"When all the Italians left [Chinatown]," she said. "Amazing."

After 70 years of marriage, four sons, seven grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and many years of running the store, Rose had a simple explanation for the couple's many years together.

"We respected each other and we loved each other," she said. Then she turned to her husband and told him: "We've had a good life, Pop."

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