Lads Market, a full-service independent grocery store for nearly 50 years, is closing its doors in northwest Santa Rosa.

Owner Art Maybrun, 70, said the time has come for him to retire and close the business in a small shopping center at Marlow and Piner roads. He said he tried without success to sell the business twice in the past four years.

The grocery joins two other small markets, Skyhawk Village Market and Traverso's Gourmet Foods, that have gone out of business in Santa Rosa in the past two years.

"The small independent is just disappearing," Maybrun said.

The news surprised and disheartened shoppers at the market Wednesday afternoon.

"Lads has been around forever," said Corey Mason of Santa Rosa. "It's just such a hometown kind of place."

Cheryl Majors of Santa Rosa said she's been coming to Lads for 20 years, ever since the store moved across town to its current location. She said its meat department is staffed by knowledgeable people and the market sells delicious barbecued foods cooked outside on weekends.

"They make awesome chicken and tri-tips," she said.

Maybrun was a 21-year-old former box boy from Chicago when he opened Lads with three other partners in 1963. Maybrun and his wife, Jeannette, eventually became the sole owners and kept the business open for nearly three decades in east Santa Rosa.

The Maybruns were forced to close that location on Summerfield Road and Montgomery Drive in 1992 after their lease ran out and they were unable to negotiate a new agreement with their landlord.

But within two months they announced they had taken over a bankrupt health food store on Marlow Road. Lads reopened and has remained there ever since.

The market's produce aisle features Swiss chard, broccoli crowns and corn arranged neatly on ice. Its meat and fish department offers Rocky the Range Chicken, Cajun catfish, Jamaica chicken breast, chipotle pork tenderloins and a series of custom ground meats. Lads also has a bakery, deli and wide selection of wines.

Most of the market's contents now are 25 percent off their regular price. Maybrun said all the food and merchandise must be sold before Nov. 15, when the store's equipment will be auctioned off.

Maybrun said his son Jeff and daughter Renay have worked at the market for years, but neither wanted to take over the business.

Jeff, 46, said he's worked in the business since age 12, with only a few years away at college. He's thinking of pursuing work in the wine or financial services industries, but doesn't intend to start his job hunt until 2013.

"I'm actually going to take a break for a little bit," he said.

His father also is looking forward to time off. In almost 50 years, his longest vacation was nine days.

He acknowledged that competition is stiff from the supermarkets and big-box stores, who can dictate prices to suppliers and offer more variety than a 10,000-square-foot market.

Even so, Maybrun said, "I loved the grocery business. It's in my blood."