Liquor store owner a local 'icon'

CORONA DEL MAR — Around the corner from the Frisbee rack, on the other side of the California Lottery machine, rested some glass vases with bouquets of lilies and other fresh flowers.

The juxtaposition caught Frank Arriola by surprise. When he walked into Corona del Mar's Korker Liquor to get his daily Lotto ticket, as he has been doing for years, he asked the clerk about the flowers.

Did someone crash into the window and apologize?

No, the young clerk told him. They were there for the clerk's father, Daniel Yegenian, the store's owner who died Oct. 31 from heart failure.

Arriola, a body-builder over 6 feet tall, was choked-up.

"I called him Pops," he said. "He was an icon. I thought he'd be here for the rest of my life."

Yegenian, who died at 59, was a quintessential immigrant business owner, beloved by his customers.

He came to California from Lebanon in 1979. First, he bought a Shell Gas Station in La Mirada, operating it for 18 years. Then, about seven years ago, he purchased Korker, a Corona del Mar institution.

A throwback to the 1950's, Korker is a one-story shop near the intersection of East Coast Highway and Avocado Avenue. Its white-washed stone wall, pale blue paint and retro sign appear as if they haven't changed in more than half a century.

When Yegenian bought Korker, he installed new coolers, fixed up the interior carpeting and expanded the wine selection, said his son Garen, 23.

"He cared for this business so much," he said. "This store's him."

The work paid off in customer loyalty. Garen pulled out a list of 25 customers and business associates who attended the service on Saturday. He had written their names on the paper box for a carton of Parliament cigarettes.

"While I knew already that a lot of people loved him, it was comforting to know that he was so well-liked in the community," said Garen, who lives in Fountain Valley with his mother.

Regulars have offered to help Garen, who is now running the store.

Customers like Arriola, have broken down, and told him about how much they cared for his father.

They would see the elder Yegenian every time they came in — he was his only employee and opened the store every day at 7 a.m. and closed at 9 p.m., except for Sundays, when he worked 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"We told him, 'get another worker, make it easier on yourself,' " Garen said.

But Yegenian refused. He preferred to oversee the business while his wife, two grown daughters and his son led their own productive lives.

"All he knew for his life was to care for his family and work hard," Garen said.

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