Stocking Up

Grocer Morrie Notrica, whose Original 32nd Street Market has been a fixture in Central Los Angeles for 33 years, is diversifying to yuppiedom.

From his 50,000-square-foot store near USC, Notrica has gained national recognition in the grocery industry for turning high profits in a demographic area considered by grocery insiders to be “impossible” to satisfy--low-income Latinos and blacks and a largely foreign, ever-changing student population.

He has been asked to stock seaweed, cactus strips, grape leaves and low-calorie borscht. He has special sections of Mexican, Italian, Indian, Japanese and Creole foods. But, Notrica says, his “biggest challenge” will come in seven weeks, when he opens his second 32nd Street Market near a suburban, upwardly mobile community in Los Alamitos.

Knowing what will please the finicky young professionals is a mystery to Notrica, a first-generation American of Greek descent who grew up at the corner of Hoover and 32nd, where his father ran the market.


At the new store, he is planning a full-service deli and large fish counter, “but I’ll have to spend at least a few months on the floor talking to the customers and seeing what they want.”

The Original 32nd Street Market serves 7,000 customers a day, with weekly sales of nearly $600,000. Notrica’s annual sales of $30 million are nearly double the average for similarly sized chain-owned supermarkets, making him one of the largest independent grocers in Southern California.

But the new store, a former Vons in the El Dorado Shopping Center on Wardlow Road (barely over the Los Alamitos line in Long Beach) will be half the size at 25,000 square feet. “Here, I sell the produce before we get it out of the boxes and onto the shelves. It won’t be close to the same in Los Alamitos,” Notrica said after haggling over the price on 720 boxes of corn.

Vons vacated the store last December, after several attempts at re-merchandising failed to increase declining profits, a Vons spokesman said. And a new, larger Vons a few blocks away may offer formidable competition to the new 32nd Street Market.


But Notrica isn’t worried.

“In a chain, everything is regimented,” said Notrica, “but I can react to demand immediately.”

Notrica’s present strategy is to stock high volumes of perishable produce at low prices. Lettuce hasn’t sold for more than 19 cents a head in 26 years. Potatoes are never above 99 cents for a 10-pound bag. Apples are currently four for $1 and tomatoes 4 pounds for $1.

“That’s his trademark. Morrie does the things no one else does, and it gets him attention,” said Steven Koff, president of the 1,200-member Southern California Grocer’s Assn. “It will be different for him . . . but Morrie is a genius at merchandising.”


Notrica knows the low-budget strategy will not easily impress the more upscale crowd. “And I’ll have to be neater. Shiny, nicely stacked produce, with no cardboard boxes around.”

And maybe some gourmet ice cream, kiwi fruit and pre-packaged sushi.