Lincoln Village West folks are writing letters and signing petitions supporting Jatinder “Jesse” Sandhu, owner of Marina Center’s nicely named Temperance Liquors.
The Grupe Huber Company, which owns Marina Center, is evicting Sandhu, who has operated Temperance for over 15 years, as well as ousting the liquor store, there for 50.
“My kids’ financial needs, our future, we have everything invested here,” said Jesse, 50. “It’s a nightmare.”
Kevin Huber, president and CEO of Grupe Huber, responded. “The inside of the store is unorganized, it’s unclean. That just is not the kind of tenant we want in Marina Shopping Center.”
Jesse and his wife, Divjyot “Div” Sandhu, are Sikhs from India’s Punjab region. Marrying here, they became American citizens, buying Temperance Liquors in 2007.
“Both of us worked minimum-wage jobs, and we collected our money, and that’s how we bought this,” said Div.
Jesse worked grueling hours to build the business. Once, when his young daughter (the Sandhus have three children) drew a picture of her family, she left Jesse out because she never saw him.
“He would leave at eight in the morning, and he would come home at 10, after she went to bed,” Div said. That’s how much he was working.”
The hard work paid off. As the years passed, Jesse could afford to hire help. Div could stay home with the kids. It didn’t hurt that the store had four or five big Fantasy 5 lottery winners.
“We’re considered a ‘lucky’ store,” Jesse said.
The Sandhus say they were blindsided by the eviction, and that it is unfair. Temperance Liquors has never seen a killing, shooting, robbery, or even a fight. It doesn’t accept EBT cards so it doesn’t attract disadvantaged clients. It sells high-end wines.
“Our clientele is very nice customers from Brookside and Five Mile Drive,” said Jesse, naming two of Stockton’s more affluent neighborhoods.
Well, not entirely. Lincoln Village West’s demographics changed over the last decade. Blue Ridge Circle has become notorious for, as one customer put it, “gang bangers, hooligans, and ruffians.” Some find their way into the store, perhaps loiter outside.
“I won’t say it never happens,” said Div. “It happens a lot less than other liquor stores. We run a very clean business.”
Stockton police confirm Temperance liquors is not a trouble spot. The last 2½ years have seen three petty theft calls and one vandalism — the Sandhus being the victims.
I visited the store. Jesse was behind the counter. Instead of a turban — Sikh elders gave him permission to cut his hair — he wore a Sierra Nevada beer cap. The store’s interior and exterior were clean. Jesse greeted 80% of customers by name.
None liked the eviction.
“I think it’s kind of an atrocity,” said Robert Gianelli, who said he’s been a part of the neighborhood since it had dirt roads. “This store is a staple. And he’s a stand-up guy.”
“I’ve been coming here 20 years,” said Danny Yandell. “I never noticed it was dirty out here, or anything. I hate to see him go.”
Yandell added, “He carries Hamm’s for me.”
Upward of 1,000 customers so far have signed a petition asking Grupe Huber to relent. Others wrote letters, like Jerry Centeno.
“It is my understanding that you may have some concerns Temperance Liquors drawing an ‘unwanted element’ to Marina Center. I can honestly say I’ve never experienced or felt such a presence inside or outside Temperance Liquors night or day …” Centeno wrote, adding he’s seen numerous shoplifters being chased out of the adjacent Marina Marketplace, which also sells wine and spirits, and Ace Hardware.
There’s another side to the story, said landlord Huber.
“Just so you know how I feel, I worked at Temperance Liquors,” Huber said. “So I’ve had an affinity for Temperance Liquors. But when I worked there, it was a clean, upscale store.”
Though clean now — because the Sandhus are under the gun — the store over the years was often dirty and in disarray. When pressed, Jesse would clean it up but invariably backslide, Huber said.
So chronic is the problem that Grupe Huber stopped renewing the Sandhus’ lease nine years ago. “They’ve been on a month-to-month lease because we haven’t been able to trust they could clean things up,” Huber said.
Eviction has long been in the air. “The fact that Jesse says it comes as a surprise to him is a shock to us. We’ve been asking them to clean up for 10 years.”
Grupe Huber is spending $2.5 million to gussy up Marina Center, and “That’s not the image of Marina Center we want,” Huber said.
Plus, the Ace Hardware store wants to expand into that space, and Grupe Huber must give due consideration to anchor tenants.
Huber said he could legally evict the Sandhus with 30 days’ notice but will give them more time to find a new location.
“They’re very nice people,” Huber said. “I sympathize with the difficulty that this may cause them. We’re very hopeful that they can find a more appropriate location. I wish I could trust they would continue to do the things they say they will do, but I just can’t.”
One of the letters of support is from Temperance’s previous owner, Mike Boitano.
“I’ve stayed in touch with Jesse and watched him invest time, money and many improvements …” Boitano wrote. “Also he’s cultivated many new customers, which many turned into friendships. I feel it would be a travesty not to keep Temperance Liquors as a tenant especially with the connection that it has with neighbors of Lincoln Village West.”
The connections. Community. The first-name greeting from a shopkeeper of long acquaintance. I confess I value such things, especially in Stockton where community is what sustains people despite the city’s nagging faults. Not my call, though.
Michael Fitzgerald’s column usually runs on Wednesdays. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email: email@example.com.