When one thinks of a local iconic business in most towns, one probably doesn’t think of a Vons Grocery Store. Here in Santa Maria, CA, there are two Vons stores. The really dumpy little one on Main Street next to the freeway and the one on Broadway that is slated to close on December 7. I was told this by a clerk yesterday and then verified it when I looked on line to find a story by the NBC news affiliate that confirmed it. I’m guessing the larger, more popular Foods Co store across the street that sports a gas station has something to do with it.
The building is way overdue for an overhaul. Built in 1950 as the flagship store for the Williams Brothers chain, it reflected the local obsession with the weird Swiss Chalet architecture of the period with pointed gables, diamond paned and gingerbread trimmed windows and large boulders (?). Influenced by (or perhaps even built by) building developer Alex Madonna who did much of the developing at the time all up and down the Highway 101 freeway along the central coast. He is famous for the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo that is of the same style. Another influence I’m sure is the Danish town of Solvang just a half-hour drive to the south. Just the same, weird by most standards in that we are in an area, that has never seen snow, is famous for Spanish Colonial architecture and Mexican culture… More at home with Santa Maria Barbecue than Swiss Cheese, Mariachi bands with sombreros than yodelers in lederhosen!
“On January 28, 1992 Vons acquired Williams Bros Markets for $48 million in cash and a liability of $10 million on Williams Brothers’ outstanding mortgages. At the time there were 19 Williams Bros grocery stores which Vons bought 18 except for one in Santa Barbara which was encumbered by lease complications. To avoid a public uproar, Vons promised to continue to operate the chain under its local branding and carry the same high-quality local products but by early 1994 Vons discontinued the Williams Bros. brand including some of its local products and converted the chain into Vons stores. ” -Williams Bros. Markets The year following the acquisition and closing of some locations it was reported that 52 employees were laid off and several others would follow by year’s end. This time, they are claiming that all of the Broadway location employees will be relocated to other stores. “As you may expect, we have performance standards established for all of our locations, and as it relates to our property at 1482 S. Broadway, this store simply did not meet expectations,” says Carlos Illingworth, a corporate spokesperson.
There’s a lot I personally like about Vons. I love their Artisan Breads made in their bakery. Their prices are not the lowest in town but are competitive. They have great sales and I love their iphone ap Just4U that tracks what I purchase and gives sale pricing for items I would actually buy. There is something to be said for the shopping experience too –easy parking and very friendly and helpful customer service. Plus, I know where everything is and can expect it to be in the same place everytime I shop there. I like anything that makes my life easier and doesn’t sacrifice quality to do it.
My hope is that the closing of this Vons store doesn’t also mean they will be destroying this quirky building. I also hope it doesn’t mean yet another location for some discount or surplus store. Our old Mervyns building was recently occupied by a discount store named Fallas after standing empty for several years. I would have thought the new occupants would at least paint and spiff up the place. But I guess if you are going to offer junk and incredibly cheap prices, it doesn’t warrant merchandising or at least displaying some pride in one’s community.
MAYOR ALICE PATINO ARE YOU LISTENING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! City government has a lot to say regarding the evolution of our town. I for one am not pleased with the direction things are headed.