By Christopher Nyerges
Longtime residents of Northeast L.A. are familiar with Galco’s Old World Market on York and Avenue 57 in Highland Park. When I first moved into Highland Park in 1977, I found Galco’s to be a refreshing alternative to the chain supermarkets around town.
For one thing, I loved the fragrance at Galco’s, especially in the back at the deli counter. And Galco’s didn’t have the impersonal feel of a supermarket. It was smaller, and quaint, and I met my neighbors there. And perhaps the highlight for me was being welcomed by John Nese, who purchased the store from his parents’ estate after his father died in 2005.
Galco’s started in 1897 as an Italian grocery store near downtown Los Angeles. The store moved into Highland Park in 1955. It thrived for many years but with the advent of large, chain grocery stores, Nese — who was still working for his father — felt that things needed to change.
“We had to do something,” says Nese. “The big chains were buying up the supply line and we were going broke. We could not afford the lower prices that you could get at a supermarket.”
Nese developed a niche by giving customers a choice in beverages and even bringing back the old favorites, many of which has been pushed off the shelves by the larger soda companies, Pepsi and Coca Cola. He wanted to provide “Freedom of Choice” in soda!
“When I told my father we were going to start focusing on soda pop, he went to our accountant and asked her if she had another job, and she said no,” Nese recalls with a laugh. “My father then told her that she should look for another job because he didn’t think the transition to soda pops would work.”
How did Nese decide on soda pop? “I thought about beer, but you have to be 21 to buy beer,” he says. “I figured that soda pop is a feel-good product and my market is so much bigger because anyone can buy it.”
Galco’s became the soda pop stop that doesn’t sell Coke or Pepsi, because “you can get those literally on any corner in America,” he says.
By 2000, the transition to soda pops was complete. A feature about Galco’s on Huell Howser’s “Visiting with Huell Howser” put the store on the map.
These days, Galco shoppers can choose from at least 600 different types of sodas. One of them is a root beer that’s made with the bark of sassafras; it reminds me of the root beers made in my grandfathers’ northeastern Ohio rural town.
Mr. Q Cucumber soda and Cafello’s Expresso Coffee Soda are also among the unique finds. I did not expect to like Coffee Soda, but it was a refreshing surprise with a good taste and no bad after-taste.
In addition to sodas, Galco’s stocks many small craft beers, meads, ciders, even sake and other items you can’t find in regular stores. “If you can find it easily somewhere else, I won’t stock it,” says Nese about his carefully curated inventory. In fact, Nese has a story for every drink in the store!
Did I mention that Galco’s also has a wide selection of candies that anyone over 60 would remember from childhood, back in the days of candy stores? And the sandwich shop in the back still makes the best sandwich anywhere! What’s not to love?
Galco’s Soda Pop Stop, 5702 York Blvd., L.A.
Christopher Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere” and other books, and a proponent of self-reliance, especially in the urban environment. He can be contacted at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com
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