San Jose Grocery History

Gurus Market today.

Guru's Market today.

I was recently pointed at a discussion thread on Yelp!, on the topic of the proposed Little Italy district somewhere near downtown San Jose. The post that caught my eye was near the top, where Anthony B. says “Gurus liquor store was the first grocery store in San Jose, Jeoy Francos PW, and it was Italian owned.” Earlier investigation had led to the information that the Guru’s Liquor building was built in 1934 by the same contractor who had earlier built my house, back in the 1910’s; so I wanted to find out if he had really also built San Jose’s first grocery store, and started the Joey Franco’s chain that’s still around today.

Unfortunately, it turns out Anthony B.’s claim isn’t quite true, but there is an interesting story connecting the building and the Franco family.

First, this wasn’t a Joey Franco’s PW Market. As the story is told on the PW Markets community page, Joey Franco started out in the grocery business working for his cousins, the brothers Henry and Joseph Franco, at their Franco Brothers Markets. The 13th and Washington Street store was one of theirs, and it was known as Franco’s 13th Street Market.

Second, this wasn’t the first grocery store in San Jose. It wasn’t even Franco Brothers’ first store. Visiting the California Room at the San Jose Public Library to review the old city directories, I found out that as early as 1925 they had a store on Santa Clara Street. It might have moved in the interim, but in 1932 they were located at 5th and Santa Clara, a site that is now, I guess, buried beneath City Hall. One of the key selling points was their own “$25,000 Ice Cream Factory”. They built the 13th Street store in 1934, and by 1945 they had added a third store on The Alameda. They were still listed in the directory in 1950, but by 1960 Franco Brothers were out of business.

So, what’s now Guru’s Market and Liquors wasn’t actually San Jose’s first grocery, and it wasn’t Joey Franco’s PW Market; but it was Italian-owned and in the Franco family. And that’s still a nice piece of San Jose history to keep in mind.

Francos Thirteenth Street Market, circa 1945.

Franco's Thirteenth Street Market, circa 1945.

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