The Young’s Marketplace stores are gone. The Cope’s Foodfair Markets are history, too. East Bakersfield’s last surviving Green Frog Market closed in 2013. And likewise, Modern Way Market on South Chester is no more.
Now add Oildale’s 11-C to the ever-lengthening list of mom-and-pop supermarkets that have closed their doors in Kern County.
The locally owned mainstay on Roberts Lane drew customers for decades with its full-service meat counter and know-you-by-name friendliness. But on Saturday, the last remaining 11-C will close its doors for good.
“At one time, there were five 11-C’s,” said Steve Coleman, one of the managers of the market on Roberts Lane.
Besides the Oildale store, there was the original 11-C in Taft, which is believed to have been named after a numbered oil parcel located near the store. Another market in Shafter, and two in Bakersfield, were ultimately added.
When the Oildale location closes, 11-C will be no more.
“Once they let the Walmarts in, it was only a matter of time,” Coleman said.
When you ask customers and store employees about the closing, that W-word almost invariably comes up.
The retail powerhouse moved into Oildale in 2014, developing a Walmart Neighborhood Market on North Chester Avenue, which includes meats and groceries.
Since then, the nearby Vons on North Chester Avenue in Oildale has closed as has Cope’s on Norris Road — and now 11-C. Two Dollar General chain stores have sprung up north of the river, and a Family Dollar now occupies the former Cope’s location.
“What I really have to say about this (closure) you can’t put in the newspaper,” said an angry Charles Bell, who said he shopped at Cope’s before it became extinct, then started coming to 11-C for its meat counter, which has been operated by veteran butcher John Cope since his family’s Cope’s Foodfair closed at the end of 2017.
“It’s crap,” Bell said. “You take out all the hometown places and put the corporate stores in.”
Requests left at the store on Wednesday in an effort to reach owner Brent Cruz did not receive a response. But Cruz showed up during a second visit by a reporter on Friday.
When asked to comment on the planned closure, and specifically on how many employees might be affected, Cruz declined. Soon after, he invited the reporter to leave.
But even the boss couldn’t stop the wave of emotion that has been felt by some employees and customers as the last day neared.
“I cried three times today, my official last day,” said Megan Vanderhorst, who has worked 14 years in the meat department at both Cope’s and 11-C.
“I’m so glad you’re doing this story,” she said Friday. “There’s history here. We’ve seen a lot of tears from customers today.”
According to former Bakersfield resident Tracy White, her father, Charlie Holman and his lifelong friend and business partner, Ralph Niblett, opened the 11-C in Taft in 1964. It was named, she said in a Facebook comment, for the Standard Oil parcel across the street from the store.
The partners opened the Oildale store in 1971 or ’72, she said.
It’s difficult for locally owned markets to compete against huge corporate giants like Walmart, retail consulting firms have told The Californian.
Cope, whose family owned a small chain of locally run grocery stores, has worked in the industry since he was a youngster, following his dad into the butcher’s trade.
“At the age of 10, I had a knife in my hand,” he said.
For years, Cope’s on Norris and 11-C on Roberts, had a friendly competition, Cope said. But when the Norris Road store closed more than a year ago, 11-C brought in John Cope to run its meat counter as a contractor.
But Wallmart and other competition north and south of the river was already sending reverberations through the poverty-stricken community.
“The customer loyalty dropped off,” Cope said. “But can you blame them?”
People shop for value. People with reliable transportation are going to shop at Target and Costco and Walmart. A small, family-owned market can’t compete with them on price, Cope said.
But those who aren’t able to hop in their car and shop wherever they want could be in serious trouble with the loss of 11-C and Cope’s — and that’s a sizable number in Oildale, where residents walk across the Chester Avenue Bridge in blistering heat just to shop at FoodMaxx.
“One of our biggest sellers is our meat baskets,” Cope said.
Customers choose from various selections, and stretch the bargain meats over several weeks.
“It has to get them through the month,” he said.
“People are already saying, ‘Where am I going to get my meat baskets?'”
“Dollar General?” he asked. “What kind of meat are you going to get there?”