For many longtime locals the Red & White Market is the last surviving holdout from when South Oceanside was Mayberry-by-the-Sea.
“I remember when moms would wear pretty dresses just to go and shop in a little market,” says Clare Trotter-Michel who grew up a block away from Red & White. She was born in 1959, the same year that the full-service market was officially taken over by the Spano family. “Now it’s people wearing flip-flops.”
Most other small Oceanside grocery stores that were around in the 60s, 70s, and 80s have given up on perishable food or gone away altogether. Red & White still offers a full-service deli and meat department and fresh produce even as a newly opened WinCo whittles away at Red & White’s bottom line. Just as Frazier Farms and Trader Joe’s did when they opened.
South O’s five-block Coast Highway business district was once home to Ad's Steak House (with a steer on the roof), the St. Malo lumber yard, Clifford's Pet Store, Schneider's Bait and Tackle store, the House of Toys, Kinney Shoes, Alan's Bike Shop, Harrison's Drug Store, and two barber shops staffed by WWII vets. In the 60s, when local South O kids could buy penny bubble gum from Red & White, they were also wowed with a lawn mower shop that had a spider monkey in a cage, the Hampshire House that made its own candy, and the Grand Prix slot car track.
Red & White outlasted the local Safeway and another small grocery store called Gibson’s market. But the beloved Red & White experience is about to end. The Spano Brothers – Anthony, 65, and Damian, 58 – are ending the family-owned grocery store by listing their 5500-square foot market, parking lot, and business for $2-million.
The Spano’s uncle Tony, 88, still owns and operates the other Oceanside Red & White three miles north. Anthony and Damian took over the South O Red & White in 1988 from their father (and Tony’s brother) Mel in 1988. Anthony says the Bank of America was happy to give them $425,000 to buy the building, “…because we were owner-operated.” And at the time business at the South O Red & White was booming.
When Anthony and Damian’s grandfather Joseph arrived in Oceanside in the early 50s he launched Oceanside Produce on South Coast Highway (then Hill Street) where the Pour House is now. “He was a truck farmer from upstate New York,” says grandson Anthony. “Produce was in his DNA. My dad was in the Seabees in WWII. When my grandfather came out here to see him in the 40s, he decided California is where he should be.”
Oceanside Produce relied on local farmers. “He got tomatoes, avocados, and citrus from local farming families like the Kawano’s,” recalls Spano. “He went up to L.A. to get everything else like potatoes and onions. Oceanside Produce was still running in the late 60s.” Spano says his grandfather launched three Red & Whites including a long closed store in Carlsbad and the two remaining stores in Oceanside. He says the South O Red & White birth year was deemed 1959 “…because that’s when my grandfather incorporated.”
Spano says he hopes that the new buyer will continue to operate a grocery-type store in the Red & White space. Without getting specific, he says a group that operates “upscale urban superettes” has seriously inquired. “I hope both as a community center and as a place that employs locals, we can save it as a market.” He says his store currently employs nine. “For many people, this was their first job.”
Spano admits that that an upscale superette would certainly be in keeping with South O’s “…wildly escalating property values. A two-bedroom starter house in South Oceanside for $775,000? Who can afford to live here?”
Spano says that market realities have continued to chip away at Red & White’s bottom line. “With all the [discount] Winco’s and Aldi’s out there, how do we compete? The sales of dry groceries is a falling category. I do not need 12 kinds of cake mixes that I end up getting rid of. People get that stuff from CostCo or Smart and Final. I can’t even sell through a case of cake mix before it ages out of code. Besides, if people need a cake now, they will go out and buy one.”
He says the shoppers of the 80s and the shoppers of today are “polar opposites…They don’t buy quantities of produce like they used to. They just don’t shop in the business model that we have maintained.”
Sixty-year regular Trotter-Michel says the Red & White is the place where all the locals met and bonded with their South O neighbors. “They used to have index cards in a tin box. They would write down what you owed and then you’d paid them off on Friday when you got paid. That’s how old-school they were.”
She says her family have been Red & White regulars for four generations. “It started with my parents and now my daughter and grandchildren. It was just like the TV show Cheers. Now it seems like all the old businesses in South Oceanside have become salons and yoga studios. And the prices for homes are outlandish. A two-bedroom one-bath now rents for $3250. It’s a bummer, but I guess we have to move on to bigger and better things.”
Real estate agent Bryce Carrier says that a major boom in South O home prices took place from 2013 to 2016 when an average house valued at $400,000 jumped to $600,000. He says the once unthinkable actually happened earlier this year when a remodeled three-bedroom tract home on Ditmar Street sold for over $1 million.
Carrier says he does not expect South O’s skyrocketing residential prices slowing down any time soon. In fact, he says the increase of short-term rentals are destined to push the values of rentals and sales even higher. “If you can get $400 a night, you just made $2800 for the entire week where if you rent it for a regular long-term rental, you might get $3200 a month.