But it had the magic mix of friendliness, knowledge, hard work and an unwritten commitment to the community that have enabled it to keep going strong today in the era of huge grocery chains and big-box merchandising -- a combination that won the brick-and-archway store a coveted Tall Tree Award as "best business" this year from the Chamber of Commerce.
Today the store is managed by three cousins, each a son of one of the three founders: John Garcia, who handles bookkeeping and business; Lloyd Garcia, who focuses on the old-style butcher shop and deli; and Dennis Garcia, who oversees the rest of the store. Their 16 employees are evenly split between the deli/butcher and grocery halves of the operation.
Both generations are known for their many "small acts of kindness" over the years, longtime customer Sandra Pearson, former Palo Alto High School principal, said in introducing the Garcias to the 461 members of the audience at the Tall Tree Awards dinner April 12 -- or rather to those who didn't already know them.
Such acts of kindness include both contributions of food to community events and -- although there is no official "delivery service" -- making sure longtime customers get their groceries if they are unable due to illness or incapacity to make it to the store.
"It's not just a business," Pearson said. "It's a family business," with strong emphasis on family.
"When I first walked into JJ&F 40 years ago it was nothing like your usual supermarket," another longtime customer, Rachelle Marshall of Stanford, said. "It was a neighborhood store I remembered from childhood. Joe, Frank and John were greeting customers by name and seemed truly glad to see them. The meat and the produce were super fresh, and not shrink-wrapped."
Today, the store is a bit bigger but the "meat is still the best you can get anywhere and the produce is still a work of art," she said.
"Best of all, the atmosphere is still as warm as ever. The people who work at JJ&F don't mumble, 'Have a nice day,' they talk to you like friends. In fact they are friends."
Diana Irvin, a teacher at Palo Alto High, agrees. When the mother of two of her students died several years ago, "the JJ&F folks were at her service. She had shopped there.
"I'm always asked about our daughter who lives in Maine and how she's coping with the winters, or about my husband's and my latest bicycling adventures.
"And everyone knows my name," she said.
The philosophy of the store hasn't changed because of two primary reasons, the three cousins explained in a joint interview with the Weekly, crowded into a small storage room behind the store.
The first is their overall commitment to hard work, quality and connections to the community.
The second is that they inherited it from their fathers, Lloyd said, noting that he started working in the butcher section when he was 11. Dennis began working in the store when he was 12, he recalled, but John "started late" at age 15.
"I'd say it's bred into you," Lloyd said. "When you work alongside your parents it's their way. And when you work with your parents you're always 12 years old," he added. But he isn't complaining: "I'll point out that none of us have ever held another job," with the exception of a stint by Dennis in the U.S, Air Force.
"Our parents were always into quality, pushing for the highest quality product they could find and offering it at a good price -- they wanted to be competitive," Dennis said.
"And they wanted to treat customers how you would want to be treated," John, added, to the nods of his cousins.
"And we're like friends," Dennis said. "We have third-generation families shopping with us."
John said he was pushed forward to accept the award at the Tall Tree dinner partly because he is about a decade and a half younger than Dennis and Lloyd. His uncle Joe Garcia, now 80, who still works a couple of days a week helping out in the produce section, attended the ceremony. His uncle Frank, now 83, resides in Mountain View.
But his namesake uncle, John, died in 2002, he recalled in his acceptance comments -- choking up a moment at the podium.
While the market is a huge focus, the three cousins each have family lives.
Dennis and his wife, Marie, are Los Altos residents, where she teaches third grade in the Los Altos School District. Their son, Kyle, 27, is about to leave for Europe in a job transfer for the software firm for which he works. Their daughter, Robyn, 29, lives in Cambridge, Mass., where she works for a pharmaceutical firm and is an opera singer.
Dennis escapes from the market annually to go fly fishing in Montana, "way out of cell-phone range."
Lloyd and his wife, Rosemary, reside in Los Altos, where she teaches eighth-grade English in the school district. Their daughter, Megan, 23, is a graduate student going for a master's degree in education at the University of California, Davis, and their son, Daniel, 20, is a student at California State University at Chico, majoring in construction management. Lloyd in his spare time is an avid reader of non-fiction, from samplings from history to current affairs. He is also a former tennis player and jogger.
John and his wife, Marie, who works for Farmer's Insurance, have younger children, son Cory, 13, and daughter Jamie, 8. John and Cory are dirt-bike (off-road motorcyle) riders in their spare time.
The cousins agree that they hope their market is still around for years to come, as a fourth generation of customers comes of age.
But a shadow has been hanging over the market, and neighborhood, in the form of a doubtful relationship with a new landlord who plans major renovations to the building that houses the market, and adjacent properties.
John says he's "optimistic" about a positive outcome, and that they are involved in a mediation process now, with another session coming up this Thursday evening.
Asked to compare their high-end selection of wares with other smaller, specialty markets -- Trader Joe's, Piazza's -- John is succinct:
"We're one of kind," he said, to smiling nods of agreement.
This story contains 1094 words.
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