Cedar Market, the little corner store near us, has been closed for the last few months. Until two or three years ago, it was run by a Chinese couple who seemed to do all right but clearly had modest ambitions for the business. There was nothing fancy in the place, though they always stocked a few bins of tired looking produce and even had a meat counter. But the store was mostly dark and a little bare, and the only thing I’d buy there with any regularity was an It’s It, a local product that is a species of the ice cream novelty genus of dessert items. It consists of vanilla, chocolate, mint or coffee ice cream pressed between two round graham crackers and the whole thing covered with a thin layer of chocolate. I could go for one right now.
Then the Chinese couple sold. The new owners were Indian or Pakistani — a guess based on reading the names in the liquor license record. In the first year they were in business, they put a lot of money into the place. New freezers and refrigerators, new racks, and a much upgraded product line including a full if haphazard wine and beer selection. They started selling lottery tickets, and they hung a sign out front announcing they were selling fresh sushi daily. I think it’s when I saw the Newman’s Own cookies in the store that it hit me they were really trying to cater to the fancy, upscale, organic tastes of some in the neighborhood. It was mid-October, within a couple of weeks of spotting, but not buying, the Newman’s Own cookies, that I walked over one weekday around noon and the place was closed. The next day, too. And the day after that.
They put a sign up announcing that they were remodeling and would reopen on Halloween. But unless they intended to knock the building down and start over, it looked like they had already done all the remodeling the store could take. There was never any sign of any work going on, though all the racks had been removed and the refrigerators were empty.
Halloween came and went. No remodeling, and no reopening. Soon, whoever ran the store posted a big notice from the state alcohol control agency saying their liquor license had been suspended for two weeks; checking around, I found the store had been caught in a Berkeley police sting and was busted for selling alcohol to a minor last April. Another sign appeared in the window: Reopening November 25. I looked at that, calculated that the 25th was a Sunday, and figured the store would stay closed. It did. Then in December, someone moved some racks back in, and they were filled with candy and chips. But the store stayed closed.
Two weeks ago, a new notice was hung in the window: new owners are applying to take over the store’s liquor license. On odd nights, the lights have been on inside; when someone’s there, they tape a sign on the door saying, “Sorry, closed for remodeling”; when they’re gone, they take that sign with them. Peering in the front door, it looks like there might be beer in the refrigerators. The floor racks are still filled with candy and chips, and it looks like the same stuff that showed up last fall (when’s the last time you checked the “best if consumed by” date on your M&Ms or Doritos, though?).
So our minor neighborhood institution remains on hiatus. For me, the most profound change since the owners took a powder is the disappearance of another letter on the old Lipton’s Tea sign on the window. It may have been 50 or 60 years since that sign was put up; I can’t precisely identify the era in which Lipton’s was a major magnet for corner-store shoppers. Ten years or so ago, the sign lost its “N.” Sometime later, the apostrophe absconded. Now the “L.”
I can’t say I care that much about whether the store ever opens again. But that sign; I’d like to know the Lipton’s sign is still up there, marking time.
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