Editor's note: The last in a two-part series
I have been thinking lately about what it means to shop locally. For a town the size of Merced, it could be something as literal as staying in town, patronizing our Olive Avenue mall, including Sears and other chains, instead of going to Modesto or Fresno, where the stores are bigger, the malls longer.
After all, when I'm shopping at a Merced franchise, my dollars are paying the salaries of Merced residents and supporting the business of a local franchise owner, if in fact the franchise is owned by someone local. But that's the problem with chains: It's difficult to know who owns them.
With mom-and-pop stores, there can be no question about ownership.
And so, while I am still a bit confused about whether or not I'm doing the right thing when I swipe my credit card at Merced's Target, I have no such misgivings when I walk through the door of Passadori's in Atwater. There, a middle-age salesman wearing a plaid shirt who looks like he knows a thing or two about hardware asks me if I need help.
Today, though, I don't need anything at Passadori's. Instead of buying, I want to talk. The salesman directs me to Ryan Passadori, who is signing off on a delivery from UPS. When I tell Ryan why I'm there, the courier says, "Remember to say there was a strong UPS presence" -- and then he's gone.
Ryan Passadori is the grandson of the owner. This store has been in his family since his great-grandfather opened it in 1919 as a grocery store.
Ryan is sketchy about the history of his store, and I am not surprised considering his age -- I have only infrequently met people under 30 who care much about the history of anything, particularly those things that are very familiar to them.
In any case, I learn from Ryan that Passadori's was a grocery store for about 20 years, and sometime after the late 1930s was converted to a hardware and furniture store. Though Ryan is vague about the details, he does have one concrete bit of history to share with me: a scrapbook including newspaper clippings from 1935-1936. Ryan pulls the book out from under a counter and flips through the pages that feature Passadori's display ads.
"A customer gave this to us. A lot of our customers have been coming in here for a long time."
He flips through the pages and stops at the real estate ad offering property for the price of a good laptop today. "Imagine," he says, "that land could have ever been that cheap."
I ask about the longtime employees and am told that Tom Corvello, retired not long ago, was at the store for 25 years. I ask why the store still writes up its sales on old invoice machines, with a carbon copy for the customer and one for the store. Ryan says there isn't any reason to change the practice. It works just fine.
But Ryan is the new generation of Passadoris, and he is more passionate about the future than the past.
"We're remodeling -- well, rearranging -- for a full hardware and electrical department, the kind of stuff you'd find at Lowe's," he tells me.
"We try to sell 'Made in America,' like Speed Queen washers and dryers. The big-box stores don't sell them," he said, clearly proud that his store can offer something the others do not.
"Yeah, they're more expensive," he tells me when I ask about the price, "But they come with a three-year guarantee, and they're made in Wisconsin. All of the parts."
Currently, Ryan's dad Jim and his uncle Steve still work at Passadori's, but it is easy to imagine that one day they will retire, and Ryan will be in charge. I ask if he'll want his children to work at the store.
"Well, first I'll have to get married and have kids," he says. "I don't know if that'll happen."
But I believe it will. I like thinking about the future Passadoris who will possibly sell my descendants their first Speed Queen. And, after leaving Passadori's, I have decided exactly what it means to shop locally.
Brigitte Bowers is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced.