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On a sunny afternoon in October, Michael Traverso, great-grandson of Traverso's founder Charlie Traverso, tears a yellow carbon copy from a receipt book, hands it to a customer, tucks the original under the cash drawer and closes the register. At the end of the month, Traverso's will mail a statement and the customer will send a check. The store still has about 20 customers with charge accounts, down from a peak of 80.

<NO1><NO><NO1><NO>There's no scanner at Traverso's, rendering black-and-white-striped bar codes irrelevant. Until the 1990s, purchases were rung up on a hand-cranked adding machine. With few exceptions, business is conducted as it always has been, with old-fashioned customer service, including charge accounts, and properly sliced prosciutto trumping "efficiency."

Slicing cured meats like pancetta, sopressata and mortadella takes skill and knowledge, as does breaking cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano into retail portions. Improper handling and incorrect techniques destroy the subtleties of taste and texture that aficionados treasure. Since 1987, Claudio Valentina has been Traverso's specialist, his skills one of myriad reasons the store has such a dedicated following.

Yet customer loyalty and wisdom accumulated over decades haven't been enough to overcome tough economic times and growing competition. Later this month, the store will change hands.

"Today, even Costco has salami," says George Traverso, Charlie's grandson and Michael's father, adding that although Costco may sell it, they don't know how to slice it correctly.

Traverso's Market opened in 1933 and for 87 of its 89 years operated in downtown Santa Rosa, moving three times. For decades, if you needed, say, polenta, you went to Traverso's, one of very few sources county-wide for the Italian products that today are everywhere. Oliver's and Pacific markets have specialty cheese departments and sell imported pasta, rice, olive oil, pancetta and more. Even Safeway has salt cod.

In 1973, Traverso's moved to its final downtown location at Third and B streets, where it both witnessed and facilitated the transformation of the American palate. An increasing number of Americans were traveling to Europe and both California and Wine Country cuisines were in their nascence. Demand for new ingredients grew and Traverso's responded, as it always had, by searching for anything a customer requested, no matter how obscure.

Soon, Traverso's became <CF102>the</CF> source for such products as golden caviar; foie gras; duck confit; suave Dijon mustard from a small producer in Provence; Vialone Nano, arguably the best rice for risotto; traditional balsamic vinegar; late-harvest olive oil from Liguria; <CF102>jamon serrano</CF>, the highly prized Spanish cured ham and, in late 2007, the exotic liqueur absinthe. Just days after a century-long ban was lifted, Traverso's had it.

"There was a mushroom-flavored bouillon cube that we couldn't get," George recalls, "because it couldn't be imported."

Otherwise, if it was available and a customer asked for it, Traverso's found it.

At the same time, our local wine industry blossomed and the store became a destination for wine lovers. Bill Traverso, George's cousin, created an extensive wine and spirits department and today is widely recognized as a knowledgeable expert. By the time he retired a few months ago, his nephew Michael had achieved his own expertise. Under Michael's leadership, that department thrived despite the economic downturn. Off-site seminars about specialty liquors, Saturday afternoon wine tastings and Traverso's wine and liquor clubs have been enormously popular.

The decision to sell the family market did not come easily but by early 2011, economic realities forced George and Michael's hand and they contacted a commercial broker.

It took about six months to find a buyer, a couple who have operated Famous Deli, Market and Bakery (1492 Lincoln Ave., San Rafael) for the past six years.

"We were attracted to Traverso's long history, its loyal customers and its tradition of customer service," Gursharn Sekhon says. "We will keep the market the same, with Italian foods, excellent wines and deli sandwiches. And we will not close when we take over. We'll be open the very next day."

When it comes to Traverso's beloved employees, there will be changes, of course. Fred Thumhart, who works with Michael in the liquor department, and Miguel Perez, who works in the deli, may stay on after the Sekhons assume ownership. Others — Bill Thompson, Debbie Schulze, Claudio Valentini and Elena Colombana, who has been at the market since 1990 — are exploring other possibilities and will most likely move on.

Anticipating these changes and their impact on longtime customers, Gursharn says he hopes for support from the community as they try to fill the Traversos' very big shoes.

Fountaingrove Gourmet Food and Wine, as the store will be called, will be open seven days a week, from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Both Gursharn and his wife, Parmjeet, who has been spending mornings in the deli for weeks, expect to be the face of the market, greeting customers, making friends and doing their best to fulfill requests, just as the Traversos did for so many decades.

And what about those charge accounts?

Gursharn confirmed that the tradition will continue. As far as scanners go, expect to see them in about six months.

What's next for the Traversos? Michael Traverso, 38, is already fielding offers from the wine industry and hopes to remain involved, somehow, with Italian wines and the single-malt scotches for which Traverso's has become known throughout the United States and Europe. But with his second child due soon, he's hoping for a bit of down time before embarking on the next phase of his career.

George Traverso, 65, is emphatic when he insists he's not retiring. He plans on entertaining residents — playing accordion, for example, and reading to those who ask him to — at London House Convalescent Hospital, where his grandmother spent some years.

He hints that there may be a book in his future, too, tales of life at Traverso's.

Archives, including the familiar black-and-white photos of the market's early years, will remain in the family.

And where will he shop?

"I'll shop here," George says, "and at other local markets like Oliver's."<NO1>

Michele Anna Jordan hosts "Mouthful" each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. E-mail Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com. You'll find her blog, "Eat This Now," at pantry.blogs. pressdemocrat.com/