A visit to Sunmaid grocery, located north of Sanger, California at the corner of Academy and McKinley, is a step back in time. It’s a visit to the 1950’s when grocery stores were owned and operated by your neighbor and not a conglomerate. Those stores featured a butcher who would take the time to tell you a story while he cut your steaks or trimmed a roast to fit your wife’s pan. But there’s something no one knew about Sunmaid; it’s one of the most loved and most popular destinations for the east side farmers and ranchers that live and work nearby.
When Bob Golden posted a note on MJDOA’s (My Job Depends On Ag) Facebook page about Al at Sun Maid, he touched off a landslide of comments from people who think Al’s a great guy and his store the best place anywhere to go for beef and a story.
“His job depends on ag,” Bob said, “I have purchased meat from him for years.” He added, “His kids work in this little store, and he employs folks from the surrounding area.”
“My gosh, everything about this place depends on ag,” Al said, “Just about all of my customers are farmers, ranchers, farm laborers – everybody depends on ag, and of course everything I sell comes from ag.”
The store itself is a piece of Fresno County history. It’s nearly 100 years old, and an old gas sign is above the covered drive where the gas pumps once stood. The market is located at what once was known as the community of Fairview, which was settled in 1892, and at one time had a blacksmith shop, several packing houses, a train station, and, in 1922, gained a grocery store; Sunmaid Grocery, which has been operated continuously ever since. The store even had living quarters in the back.
And Al may as well have a bed there; he works 7 days a week, from early to late, keeping farmer’s hours for the 22 years he’s owned the market.
“When I wake up I can’t wait to get to work and see my customers,” Al says.
And his customers can’t wait to see him. For years he’s had a morning ‘coffee club’, a group of guys that would stop by in the mornings to have coffee and talk politics.
“Al is a great, very hardworking man,” Wendy Biddy said in one of the posts his customers put up about Al, “My kids went to school with his kids. Great meat and a large assortment of items that can be bought instead of making the long drive into Clovis or Sanger.”
Al’s kids, adults themselves now, are continuing the tradition; they occasionally work in his store, and they have opened a new market at Highway 180 and McCall.
It’s fair to add, as far as the people around eastern Fresno county are concerned, ag depends on Al, too. And, if you like spicy meat, better try some of his breakfast sausage.
Len Wilcox is a freelance journalist who provides a weekly commentary for AgNet West’s Farm City Newsday radio program and regularly writes for West Coast Nut Grower Guide. He has been a newspaper reporter, editor, and freelance journalist since the 1980’s. He owned and edited a weekly newspaper in Madera county, California, and later worked as a reporter and editor at a daily newspaper before moving on to magazines. He was a frequent contributor to California Farmer magazine until its demise in 2012.
He also wrote and photographed for Desert USA and authored a travel journal about the California deserts, published by Hunter in 2000.