The ma and pa liquor store owners facing eviction may get a second chance, thanks to a grass-roots campaign of support and a landlord willing to mix benevolence with business.
As we reported last week, The Grupe Huber Company, which owns Marina Center, was evicting Jatinder “Jesse” Sandhu, who’s run Temperance Liquors for over 15 years. Grupe Huber also was closing the store, which goes back 50 years. Over 1,000 neighborhood residents signed a petition to save the store and keep Sandhu in business.
“We’ve been touched by the thousand-plus customers who obviously feel a loyalty to Temperance and Marina Shopping Center and are willing to continue discussions with Jesse and his wife,” said Kevin Huber, Grupe Huber’s president and CEO.
Huber changed his position from a hard no — Jesse’s gotta go — to a willingness to review Sandhu’s plan for sprucing up the aging store before he decides.
It’s a maybe. A fair maybe.
Sandhu leaped at the chance. He was discussing a floor-to-ceiling interior remodel with an architect on Monday when I visited.
“We are so humbled and overwhelmed by the support shown Temperance Liquors,” Sandhu said.
Grupe Huber planned to close Temperance Liquors as part of a $2.5 million renovation of Marina Center planned for summer. Concluding that the allegedly sloppy Sandhu would never keep the store up to the envisioned standard, Huber planned to allow the adjacent Ace Hardware store to expand into Temperance’s space.
It was a rational business decision, but a “nightmare” for Sandhu and his wife, Divjyot “Div” Sandhu. Sikhs from India, they worked minimum-wage jobs until they could afford to buy Temperance Liquors in 2007.
“My kids’ financial needs, our future, we have everything invested here,” Jesse said last week.
The Sandhus’ plight — even if somewhat self-inflicted — touched people, which swayed Huber.
“The last thing we want to see is a family business go out of business,” he said. “We are a family business.”
Also, to keep it real, the brush with eviction appears to have jolted the Sandhus out of complacency, Huber said.
“Now that they’ve understood the consequences of more inaction there seems to be more motivation to respond to us,” he said.
Sandhu seemed to confirm it. “We’ll clean everything up to expectations,” he vowed.
Huber was stung by angry comments posted below last week’s column attributing his decision to greed — he would squeeze more money out of Ace, readers scoffed.
Not so, Huber said.
“Leasing to Ace, we would be taking a $30,000-a-year loss,” Huber explained. “So, it’s not about greed. It’s about what we feel is the right use for the center.”
If the Sandhus show Huber a plan to gussy up the store, and they keep it clean, organized, and free of loiterers — reasonable expectations — they may be able to continue operating the store until their retirement.
“They’re really nice people, so hopefully they can stay,” said George Munoz.
“I’m really happy…” said Maryann, who didn’t give her last name. “I like Jesse. I’ll come in and: ‘Hi, Maryann!’ There aren’t many stores anymore that you go to and they know who you are.”
“He’s been one of the most amazing people,” said Shanon Muse. “I can go in there and be sad and he’s like, ‘Shanon, are you okay?’”
The ball’s in the Sandhus’ court. Huber will decide by summer.
“I’m thankful for what everybody’s done to save the store,” Sandhu said.
Huber: “What I would say about this process is that we’ve all learned something. We learned that Jesse does have a very loyal customer base, and that’s important to us.”
Michael Fitzgerald’s column usually runs on Wednesdays. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org