The corner of Western Avenue and Keller Street has long been a hub for Petaluma grocery shoppers. But it was only in the 1980s that the business returned to the local ownership we have enjoyed in recent history.
Let’s jump back to 1940, when Purity Stores were popping up all over Petaluma. The Fresno-based grocery chain opened its first Petaluma store on Western Avenue in 1928. By 1940, when the location at Western and Keller began serving customers, it was Purity’s sixth site in town.
By the 1970s, the Purity chain was disappearing quickly across Northern California, with more than 20 stores closing in four years. The national fuel crisis meant it was no longer cost effective to ship food longer distances, so Purity shuttered many of its locations, including all six Petaluma sites. In 1976, Purity made plans to sell its store at the corner of Western and Keller to Joe Ghiggioli of Sonoma. The Ghiggioli family operated several Food City stores in and around Sonoma County, and soon the grocery business was rebranded.
Through the early 1980s, Ghiggioli made a name for himself with a public protest against PG&E’s rising energy costs for commercial properties. In 1982, he upped the ante to include turning off the lights in the middle of the day. Customers who happened to find a darkened store were invited to take part in a “black out bonanza,” during which prices were slashed on popular items in the produce, meat or frozen food aisle.
“I’m sure as hell not going to sit back and take it,” Ghiggioli said of his skyrocketing PG&E bills in a 1982 Argus-Courier story on the black outs.
By 1987, Ghiggioli found the grocery business untenable. It was getting too expensive to operate, and he put the Petaluma Food City up for sale. Charlie and Frances Cho stepped in to buy the business, but it would not be an easy transition.
The Chos planned to cut ties with all of the union workers who had been employed by the Ghiggioli family. For some employees, wages were set to drop from $8 an hour, to $4 an hour. Employees took their grievances to the picket line, decrying the change of ownership. While new employees were hired, some customers refused to shop at the store while the former employees were protesting.
After four months, the Chos had enough. They did not see a future for the business after all of the bad press, and instead made plans to sell the site to the Lombardi family, who were longtime Petalumans. The local owners took out an ad on the front page of the June 4, 1987 Argus-Courier outlining plans to restore wages to the rates payed by the Ghiggioli family. They also planned to rebrand the story, changing it from Food City to Petaluma Market.
The new era of local ownership seemed to agree with Petaluma. It’s been 32 years as Petaluma Market, and the store at the corner of Keller and Western is still going strong.