Hassan Bordbari sat in a chair in the floral section of his Barron Park Market and Florist eating lentil soup out of a battered pot for his lunch.
"Customer!" he yelled to an employee who was tending to the fruits and vegetables at the small neighborhood market at 3876 El Camino Real.
Bordbari, 58, opened the floral shop 27 years ago and the market in 2007, with high hopes of filling a gap and serving the community after another neighborhood grocer, The American Market, closed, he said.
But these days his spirit is feeling as battered as the bean pot from which he ate. Bordbari is facing foreclosure and doesn't know how much longer the store will go on. Chase Bank is foreclosing on the building, which he owns. He owes $35,000 for four months of delinquent payments, including fees and penalties, he said.
"When I opened it, people said if it goes in, they would come, so I opened it. I put my life savings in it, but they don't shop here," he said.
"I understand, they say the fruit isn't fresh, but if they don't come and buy, there isn't any turnover. I throw it away all the time. I lost everything," he said.
Barron Park Market has received five- and four-star reviews on Yelp!, with customers calling it "part Bodega, part roadside fruit stand, part florist" and praising its offerings as a "crazy, eclectic smorgasbord" of Mexican, Middle Eastern and European products with surprises such as Captain Toady's Cocktail Sauce, Cotija cheese and gourmet Frantoia olive oil.
Bordbari blamed the market's failure on a preference of busy residents to go to larger markets such as Whole Foods and Costco. For a time, he thought about selling the building but changed his mind when the real-estate market collapsed. When he bought the building, it cost $4 million; he still owes $700,000 on the loan, he said, and he pays $6,000 each month on his mortgage.
Now he is trying to secure a $100,000 private money loan company to keep going.
Bordbari said he has seen many changes in retail along the El Camino Real strip.
"Taco Bell goes; Compadres goes; Jack in the Box goes -- all gone! Every little business -- they are all moving out. Then a big company moves in and takes the essence out of the neighborhood," he said.
Residents agreed that if Barron Park Market and Florist closes, it would be a loss for the neighborhood.
"Although we rarely shop there it still is useful to have a market in the neighborhood within walking distance of most of Barron Park and Ventura. I think we all would be very sad to see them go. Unfortunately it's hard for small markets to be competitive with the giants like Safeway and Raley's," Bob Moss, who has been keeping an eye on recent retail closures along El Camino near Barron Park, said in an email to the Weekly.
"Walmart and Target also are expanding in the grocery business, so competition for the smaller stores like Barron Park Market is tough. Let's hope this is just a temporary rough patch and they are able to survive," Moss said.
Resident Tom Wagner said he shops at the market periodically but not routinely. Lisa Altieri said she hoped the Barron Park Green Team, of which she and Wagner are members, could come up with creative ways to help the market.
"I can't speak for other residents, but I would feel that it is unfortunate for the neighborhood to lose a local market. ... I think this is a great opportunity for our neighborhood to be more sustainable by having a local market that we can easily walk or bike to for groceries.
"I have been thinking about whether it would help the market to continue if we set up some way for neighbors to provide feedback and info to the market on what kinds of items they would come in to buy, so that the owner could stock items that were more likely to support neighborhood customers," she said. But, she added, the Green Team is working on numerous other projects and would not be able to launch a feedback system right away.
The stress of loss has affected Bordbari's health.
"I almost collapsed two months ago," he said, pointing to the floor. "Right here -- I almost had a nervous breakdown."