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Sixty years and three generations: why this market feels like home

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Sara's Market in East Los Angeles.

Sara's Market in East Los Angeles was first run by Sara Valdes' great-uncle. Andie Corban/Marketplace

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Sara Valdes never thought she’d take over the family business. Sara’s Market in East Los Angeles has been in her family for over 60 years. It was first owned by her great-uncle, who passed it on to Valdes’ parents, who renamed the business after her. After around three decades, as her parents approached retirement, Valdez and her husband, Steven, took the reins.

“My parents own the whole property and I grew up in the back house, so I’ve been here my whole life,” Valdes said. “I used to work here when I would come out of elementary school just down the street. I was in charge of selling chips, which were then only a quarter.”

While Valdes’ mother worked at the store, she told young Sara she could play anywhere she could see her. That meant Valdes grew up playing hopscotch on the sidewalk and tetherball on the tree in front of the store.

Steven and Sara Valdes behind the counter at Sara’s Market. (Andie Corban/Marketplace)

Throughout her workday, Valdes often visits her parents’ home, still just behind the store. She catches up with her mother and checks on her dog, who stays with her mother while she and Steven are working. As the store’s only employees, they’re usually there together from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

“We laugh about it all the time. I feel like my house is like a hotel,” Valdes said of her home in the North Hollywood neighborhood, about a 20 minutes’ drive from the store. “I just go, sleep, shower, and the next day we’re back here.”

Whenever Valdes talks about her home, she is really referring to the store.

“The second we get off the freeway, it’s really hard to explain, but this is home,” Valdes said. “Even on days off, I drive all the way over here to come and get my hair cut. Certain products we need to get, I’m like, ‘Oh I know where we can get that,’ and it’s always out here. Versus where we live, sometimes I don’t even know where things are still, and we’ve been there for almost 10 years.”

Many of the store’s customers come in multiple times a day and have been shopping there for years. Some know Valdes’ parents and remember her playing at the store as a child.

“We have neighbors that bring us dinners. Like just yesterday, one of our neighbors sent us home with a pot of pozole,” Valdes said. “We’ve known each other for such a long time, it doesn’t really feel like they’re customers. They come in here to chitchat about personal things, random things, or just how their day at work went. So we’re like our own little family around here.”

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