Don Shone and Dale Downing have been working together in local grocery markets since getting their feet wet as box boys in 1960s. In 1985 their families teamed up to launch Sonoma Market and the partners doubled down in 1993 with the opening of the Glen Ellen Village Market. On April 1, Shone, 80, and Downing, 74, officially pass the keys to the register to Eric Stille, of Northern California-based Nugget Markets. We asked Don and Dale their final thoughts as proprietors of two outstanding local markets.
When you look back over the years at Sonoma Market and Glen Ellen Market, what highlights stand out?
Don: I remember how in the early days we struggled and worked 12- to 14-hour days and the reward we got out of it. It makes you feel proud when you walk through the front door.
Dale: It was just fun! Trying different things, seeing how they worked. And some of them did and some of them didn’t. We used to take a whole bus load of employees down to Los Angeles to visit different stores. We toured stores all over, including Nugget Markets. Trying to get new ideas, that was the fun part of the business. Seeing what else you could do to drive the business.
Why do you think locals became so loyal to Sonoma Market?
Don: I think because we have kept on top of quality and been very cutting edge. The big chains stores just can’t do that.
Dale: We’ve given back to the community, golf tournaments and local people appreciate it. We’ve supported the community and they have supported us. They feel like it is their store. And it is. Eric (Stille, Nugget CEO) has really enjoyed reading all the comments from our customers on Facebook.
What’s the No. 1 comment or question you are getting from employees and from customers?
Don: Customers are hoping that things stay the same.
The first day we met Eric at a Nugget, the box boy gave him a high-five. It just felt right.
At the first dinner where we decided to tell a few key staff members, Eric said, “Let’s include the wives.” And I knew right then that he was the guy. It felt right. It felt like family.
Dale: Employees have been real positive. My mom shops at Nugget and loves it. We’ve gotten a lot of congratulations. People saying, “52 years, you deserve it.” And don’t change the sandwiches!
What will you miss?
Don: I am going to miss the employees. Talking to them about their families.
But I’ve been in the grocery business since I finished high school. So I’m ready.
Dale: Every time I walk in the stores I am amazed by what we have done. It always blows me away. How did we do this? I love the employees and our customers and it just makes me proud to have built this. I’m going to miss it.
What’s next for you?
Don: Our youngest just bought some property in Idaho and I look forward to doing some hunting and fishing back there. Also, I’ve missed a few places in the U.S. that I need to go see.
Dale: Erin keeps me busy and we have a teen daughter so that will keep me busy.
There is a saying, “Show me a grocer with a low handicap and I’ll show you a grocer who is going bankrupt.” So I look forward to working on my golf game.