The first time she drove past the scene of the Trader Joe’s gun battle, Mary Haberman’s heart began to pound. All she could think of was footage of cops swarming the popular Silver Lake market and a strangely empty Rowena Avenue.
On Thursday morning however, the Mount Washington resident was excited to return to her local market, the one she'd shopped at for decades — usually after hiking in Elysian Park.
“I like so many of the people who work here,” Haberman said before heading into the store, a canvas tote bag in hand. “I run into friends here.”
Almost two weeks after a store manager was killed in a shootout between police and a murder suspect, the Trader Joe’s opened its doors to customers for the first time. Staff members marked the occasion by wearing tie-dye T-shirts as they greeted longtime customers. A matching billboard outside the store proclaimed “Silver Lake always.”
The day’s work uniforms, according to the company, were intended to honor the vibrant life of Melyda Corado, the 27-year-old assistant manager who was fatally struck by a Los Angeles police officer’s bullet.
The company has continued to pay employees and offer grief counseling in the aftermath of the July 21 shootout, according to Trader Joe’s spokeswoman Kenya Friend-Daniel. Some staff from the company’s other local stores were also on hand to provide extra help Thursday.
“From Day One, our focus has been on supporting our crew members and customers as best we can,” Friend-Daniel said. “Opening back up is part of that healing process for our community.”
Most staff members have chosen to keep working at the store, although a handful have elected either not to return or have requested a transfer. The company has accommodated those requests, Friend-Daniel said.
Some of those customers who visited Trader Joe’s on Thursday morning described the mood as noticeably somber. Staff brought in from other stores operated registers, while employees who had worked there before the shooting gathered in groups and talked quietly among themselves, customers said.
During the week and a half the store was closed, Trader Joe’s installed new floors and registers. The company had already planned to make these changes, Friend-Daniel said, and wanted to use the closure as an opportunity to usher in a fresh start and make customers feel more welcome in a place marred by tragedy.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to come today, especially after I saw all the media here,” Los Feliz resident Rafik Ghazarian said Thursday morning as he loaded his car with potted roses. News trucks lined Hyperion Avenue, and many customers eyed them warily as they walked into the store. Still, a steady stream of patrons came and went after the store opened at 8 a.m.
“We wanted to be here to see the employees, to support them,” said Nelly Ghazarian, Rafik Ghazarian’s sister and a longtime customer. Plus, she said, there are certain items she’ll only buy at Trader Joe’s, like quinoa and smoked gouda.
Nelly Ghazarian said she approached a manager she had come to know over the years and asked how she was. The manager was kind, said hello, but didn’t want to talk about it. Ghazarian understood; she had known Melyda Corado, too, at least on a customer service level.
Corado’s shooting came after a family dispute in South Los Angeles spun out of control. Gene Atkins, 28, shot his grandmother at least seven times and injured another woman, police said.
The gunman dragged the second woman into his grandmother’s Toyota Camry and fled, according to police. After a pursuit of several miles that allegedly involved Atkins firing at police, the Camry crashed into a light post outside the Trader Joe’s in the 2700 block of Hyperion Avenue.
The gunman exchanged fire with police and was struck in his left arm before running inside the store, police said. During the shootout, a police bullet killed Corado.
After a three-hour hostage negotiation with 40 to 50 people trapped inside the store, Atkins surrendered.
Atkins has been charged with 31 felonies, including one count each of murder, kidnapping, two counts of premeditated attempted murder and four counts of attempted murder of a peace officer. He waived his arraignment and is being held on $18.75-million bail.
Some customers returned to the store Thursday with a measure of apprehension. But many others expressed a sense of pride in their community and a determination to hold it together by living life as they had before the shootout.
When longtime customer Susie Fukuhara first heard about the shooting, she was baffled. “How could that happen in Silver Lake?” she thought. “Things like that don’t happen here.”
But a few days passed, and she decided to correct her thinking. “This is still a wonderful place to live,” she said.