Looking back on... Beach's Market

DOWNEY - In 1950, a teenage Bill O'Neill was desperately searching for a much needed job.With his family struggling financially, the young Downey Union High School student had no choice but to help out at home. To O'Neill's delight, a friend and classmate named Jim Hagey suggested he become a box-boy at the small ranch market near the southwest corner of Paramount Boulevard and Imperial Highway known then as the Downey Farm and Home Center. Hagey promised he'd put in a good word for O'Neill. "Hagey," said O'Neill, who's now 75, "was a fine, clean-cut, All-American type young man who had been working there as a box-boy. When he moved on to another job - or perhaps it was when he went off to college - he recommended me as his replacement." Whether he knew it or not, O'Neill was getting ready to work at a small, local market that would eventually be passed down three generations to become what we know today as Beach's Market. Before the days of numerous national supermarket chains, small grocery stores and neighborhood farmers markets were the destination for local shoppers looking to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products. For those living in the still rural community of Downey, it was no different. For Downey residents during the 1940's and 50's, the Downey Farm and Home Center, which drew customers from in and around the city, offered fresh produce at bargain prices. During its early stages, the farm and home center, which began as an open-air vegetable market, was divided into various segments or departments that were owned by separate vendors. In 1949, Max Beach decided to purchase a segment of the growing market. Originally trained as a bookkeeper, Beach came to Southern California from Arizona as a young, single man ready to work. Though an accountant by trade, Beach began working for a man who owned several markets around Los Angeles. As Beach worked his way up in the company, he decided to branch out in the late 1930's and open his own market. After experiencing considerable success with his first market in Los Angeles, Beach came to Downey hoping to open a second market. Once Beach purchased a segment of the Downey Farm and Home Center, he slowly began buying each vendor out until he obtained complete ownership of the market. With sawdust-covered floors and cramped, crowded aisles, the market was frequently visited, often flooded with a diversity of customers. O'Neill, who worked most evenings at the market, recalls his job being an adventure as shoppers lined the aisles. "Business boomed, and within a couple of years they added a roofed-in section in which non-vegetable items were sold," said O'Neill. "It was a busy place, with great prices. People came from miles around, attracted by the fresh produce and bargain prices. There was a canvas covering over the fruits, veggies, and check stands - sometimes it was cold in there, but the customers kept coming, and we were there to accommodate them." By the 1960's, the market had far outgrown its small space and preparations were made for a new store in Downey. Meanwhile, Max Beach, along with his son, Jerry, soon began opening more stores in the area, including locations in Glendale, Lynwood and Rosemead. In January 1967, the structure known today as Beach's Market was completed. An article from a local newspaper, Southeast News, described the opening of the renovated grocery store as the beginning of a new era. "One of the last remaining signs of rural living in Downey - Beach's Ranch Market - is no longer," the article reads. "In its place is a handsome, brick, stone and glass super-market. Now, customers can shop in a brightly-lit, wide-aisled and clean supermarket where the sounds of piped-in music echo gently throughout the store." Currently, Jerry Beach, 74, serves as president of the family company, overseeing operations at both the Downey and Rosemead locations, the only two still open today. Ron Beach, 53, son of Jerry, now manages the Downey location and serves as vice-president. "We're maintaining what we have," said Ron Beach, who can still be spotted stocking shelves at the market. "Very little has changed here. It's very similar to the days before - we're similarly operated." However, over the last decade, Beach's Market has moved into another industry altogether as the market has played host to several corporations and production companies who have used the market for commercials and films. "We were contacted about 10 years ago about having a commercial shot here," said Ron Beach. "Now, we've had a couple different things filmed here." Beach said over the last several years, the market has been featured in advertisements for Dodge Nitro, Mini Cooper, Trident, Kleenex, Dunkin' Donuts and Mountain Dew. "They come to us - we get calls all the time from companies wanting that supermarket look," said Beach. "I guess, you get known after a while - it's definitely worth our time." As the recession continues to hover over businesses across the nation, Beach acknowledges that the market has experienced similar setbacks. "We're hanging in there. We've always had competition, but now you have the Costcos and your Wal-Marts," he said. "There are the independent operators and Hispanic operators, specializing in those demographics. Chains are disappearing and there seems to be less need for your ole traditional supermarket." Nevertheless, the community of Downey should appreciate and remember Beach's legacy as it continues to serve this area as the oldest supermarket in Downey. Passed down three generations, surely Max Beach, who established the Downey market and envisioned a chain of quality stores, would hope for a fourth.

********** Published: June 24, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 10