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Around Town: Gelson's opens store in La Cañada

April 02, 2014|By Anita S. Brenner
  • Jim Veregge, of Unified Grocers, checks shelves in a refrigerated section to make sure products his company provides are well presented and fully stocked at Gelson's in La Cañada Flintridge on Monday, March 24, 2014. The store had its grand opening on March 27 at 9:00 A.M.
Jim Veregge, of Unified Grocers, checks shelves in a refrigerated… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

Last week’s E-ticket was the Gelson’s La Cañada grand opening in Plaza de La Cañada. By 9 a.m. there was a line around the store. The crowds continued throughout the day, with shopper parking as far as one block away.

You could almost feel the spirit of Bernie Gelson. In an 2005 interview with the Daily News, Jack Brown, then chair of the Stater Brothers groceries, explained that Bernie Gelson was a people person. “Bernie saw the customers as guests in his home. It was his way of life.”

In that spirit, the La Cañada store was well-staffed for the opening day crowds. A clerk named Sara cheerfully took me on a tour of the store’s kosher products. Gelson’s will be the second store in town to stock kosher poultry. The first, of course, is our beloved Trader Joe’s, which sells kosher poultry and beef.

Corporate management was omnipresent and equally cheerful. Tim Redmond, senior director of Store Operations, drove out from Simi Valley. “Gelson’s is very happy to be in La Cañada,” he told me.

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Bernie Gelson would have liked the opening day party. Gelson’s has humble yet idealistic roots. Jake and Lena Gelson were a Jewish couple who escaped Russia to the U.S. in 1907. They settled in Sioux City, Iowa and ran a small grocery. Their three children were born in Sioux City, Dorothy, Bernard and Eugene.

During the Depression, the family moved to Monterey Park. The kids graduated from Alhambra High School. In the census, Dorothy listed her occupation as saleslady. Everyone else was a grocer. In 1945, after the death of his father, Bernie enlisted in the U.S. Army.

After the war, the two sons, Bernie and Eugene, opened a small grocery store in Tujunga. They later moved the grocery to North Hollywood. In 1951, the brothers began a new venture. They decided to open an upscale, high-quality market at Victory Boulevard and Hollywood Way in Burbank. They named the market Gelson’s. Eventually, they expanded to three stores and sold the chain to the Arden group. Bernie continued to operate Gelson’s as a wholly-owned subsidiary until 1988.

Everyone has a story to tell, even a grocery store.

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