Dale and Don – simply sweethearts

An East Coast visitor staying with friends in Glen Ellen asked on his first morning if there was a market nearby where he could buy a Sunday newspaper.

He was given directions for the five-minute drive and returned an hour later with two grocery bags overflowing with cheese and bread, smoked salmon, various gourmet sausages, a fresh fruit tart and a spinach quiche, several bottles of exceptional wine, a jug of fresh-squeezed orange juice, numerous breakfast pastries, some fresh-ground coffee and a copy of the Sunday New York Times.

He was ecstatic and in awe.

He had discovered Shone’s, otherwise known as the Glen Ellen Village Market. And he babbled on about it through half the morning, insisting that nowhere in his upscale Philadelphia suburb was there any market remotely as good, with anything approaching the quality, variety and appeal that we had, right there in our little village, barely more than a wide spot in the road.

His was a common reaction, but at that early point in his relationship with Shone’s he had barely scratched the surface, he had not yet discovered the much larger, even more abundantly endowed Sonoma Market. Nor did he know the rich history of extraordinary generosity spun from the ownership threads of Don Shone and Dale Downing, partners on and off for half a century who, on Saturday, will be celebrated as the Boys & Girls Club Sweethearts of the Year, even as they celebrate the 50th anniversary of their stores.

What Dale and Don have bestowed upon the Sonoma Valley is difficult to calculate because it shows up everywhere, all the time. At one level, they have set a standard for independent, local markets that is almost impossible to match. There are Glen Ellen residents who adore the peaceful charm of their tiny town, but who insist they couldn’t live there were it not for the presence of the Village Market. Long before the word “foodie” entered the lexicon, Don and Dale understood how to assemble an eclectic mix of high quality food products with an insider’s assemblage of great wine.

But that only measures a part of their presence in the community. Their fingerprints are on everything, from the scoreboard they contributed to Arnold Field to the 1,500 bag lunches they provide each year to charity events, from the beef they give to fund raising barbecues to the eggs for decades of Easter egg hunts, from perpetual support for the Valley’s fire departments to the Community Card that channels up to 5 percent of purchases into customers’ schools or nonprofits of choice.

They don’t wear their generosity on their sleeves, it’s a quiet, pragmatic practice they simply consider good business, something any responsible community member just does, the same impulse that drove both of them to be volunteer firefighters for decades.

Ask them why they do it and Dale dredges up a Henry Ford quote that he roughly paraphrases as, “A business that is not giving back is a very poor business.”

Their commitment to the community is real, deep and enduring and they carry it comfortably like a well-worn shirt.

They are sweethearts, pure and simple.