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Broadway Market's new generation comes back to the aisles

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Opening in 1947 as a small neighborhood store offering a butcher shop, dairy products, produce and groceries, Broadway Market has seen a lot of things come and go over its long and storied history. This includes a host of products, loads of people and, some might say, a simpler way of life here in Sonoma.

Case in point: In years past, the market offered the service of frozen food lockers at a time when home freezers were something of a rarity. In the 70-plus years since, Broadway Market has seen its share of changes. But some things have remained a constant: the ownership and management, top quality meat, friendly service and happy customers.

Local girl Anna Robles has grown up in and around the market. As a 2013 graduate of Sonoma Valley High School, Anna thought she’d left it all behind when she went off to attend San Diego State. Her father, you see, manages Broadway Market and has his own history – having started as a stocker some 40 years ago.

Al Robles was just 17 years old when owner Ron Rodgers reluctantly brought him on board.

“I came in wearing jeans and a T-shirt and had long hair,” says Al. “Ron got the impression that I had an attitude and told everyone to keep an eye on me.”

As for Anna, working around her dad was fine, and with 15 years of experience doing various jobs around the store – ranging from filing and bookkeeping to cashiering and working the deli – she figured it was a pretty good part-time gig during college breaks.

But become a part of the operation? Never.

“I wanted to do marketing for a big corporation. Make commercials or work in advertising. Something creative,” said Anna from her perch on a stool in the cramped back office. “I didn’t mind working at the market over school vacation but never imagined myself really staying here.”

At UCSD, Anna had focused on marketing classes for big business because that’s what was offered. “There weren’t any classes that pertained to small business either from a marketing or a managerial perspective,” she said.

If you’ve never been to Broadway Market, you’re missing out on one of the biggest small businesses in Sonoma. Not only is it one of the most local, friendliest shopping experiences in Sonoma, it is also one of the most successful. Located at the corner of Broadway and Leveroni, the little market does a booming business throughout each day. Whatever your need, owners Ron and his cousin Dianne Gaudino, along with Al, try their collective best to make sure it is in stock. From the wee hours with piping hot coffee (nothing fancy, you won’t find a barista here), breakfast sandwiches and burritos through to early evening (hours vary) for wine, beer or dinner supplies – the market stocks everything from produce, to groceries, sundries and even fishing tackle.

The true stars, however, are the butcher shop and the deli. The butcher stocks top quality meats for purchase. They will also hang, butcher and wrap custom meats for clients or purchases from the fair. In the deli, sandwiches in every shape, size and configuration are assembled in a snap by a friendly crew in the very back of the market. The highly efficient team grinds through the lunchtime rush, day in, day out, with smiling faces and sighs of relief when it’s over. Says Anna, “Ugh, I hate working in the deli. It’s really fast paced and stressful.”

A Change of Heart

Lured back to Sonoma by the familiar – and the free room and board – Anna settled into her parents’ house after graduation.

Toying with all sorts of career options, she returned to working part-time at the market. The freedom afforded her upon graduation meant that Anna could begin training for additional responsibilities around the store. Soon, the idea of working under her dad, really learning the ropes, started to grow on her.

“In thinking about the future - both mine and the store’s – I realized that there really wasn’t anyone else to take it over,” said Anna. “Broadway Market has been a part of my life for my whole life. If it went away, well, that would be a real shame.”

So Anna began working alongside Al as assistant manager-in-training. In addition to her previous duties as a part-timer, Anna is now learning the stocking routine her dad honed at the tender age of 17, as well as the point-of-sale system on the computer. She is also responsible for ordering many of the store’s items like general groceries, Columbus products and candy, but not yet the beer or soda.

If she were to stay and take on managing the market, there are some changes she’d make – like expanding the deli and adding a real kitchen and maybe a professional cook to offer more prepared foods.

One thing she doesn’t enjoy? The early shift.

The market opens at 5:30 a.m., which means a start time around 4 a.m. Getting up at 3 a.m. has been a bit of an adjustment and not one that is especially enjoyable.

Despite that, Anna said, “I really like Sonoma’s small business environment. I get along well with my dad and enjoy my days at the store and learning new things every day.”

Adds Anna: “But honestly, I’m still not entirely certain what I want to do professionally yet. I’m going to give it a year or two and then decide if this is the right career for me.”