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.
In 1960, Dale Downing and Don Shone were box boys at Purity Store in Petaluma, where they grew up.
In 1963, Don and Sherry Shone opened Shone’s Country Store in Glen Ellen and lived above the store until 1969.
In 1969, Dale and Carole Downing joined the Shones in a partnership in Shone’s Country Store.
In 1978, Dale and Carole Downing purchased the former Danieli’s Market in El Verano from Emmett and Dan Danieli and changed the name to Downings Market.
In 1985, the Downings and the Shones bought the former Valley Mart in 1985 from the Cordellos brothers and launched Sonoma Market.
In 1985, the two couples owned three markets, Shone’s, Downing’s and the new Sonoma Market.
In 1988, Dale and Carole Downing sold the market, which become Caselli’s Market.
In 1993, Don and Dale built the Glen Ellen Village Market and closed Shone’s Country Store.
In 2003, Dale and Don were named “Retailer of the Year by the California Independent Grocer’s Association.
In 2013, Sonoma and Glen Ellen Markets launched their community cards which give away 5 percent of gross sales to local nonprofits.
In 2016, the Downings and the Shones announced the sale of both markets to the family-owned, Sacramento area Nugget Markets.