The passing of Albert Vera- and an institution
Albert Vera, the owner of Sorrento’s Italian Market, in Culver City, and former Mayor of Culver City, died last week. I learned of his death last weekend, when I walked into the funky, overcrowded deli he’s operated for close to 50 years now, according to the story I found online when I got back home. There was a notice posted in the window informing his many loyal customers of his memorial service.
I‘ve shopped at Sorrento’s, off and on, for almost 25 years now. I’ve watched his son who was always very friendly to me- maybe even a bit flirty as a teenager, grow into an adult with his own set of demons to battle.
I was surprised at the depth of emotion I felt as I spoke to the women working there, even the sometimes grumpy woman who slices the meats, and who I often judge inwardly. I bowed my head so she wouldn’t see the tears begin to well in my eyes as we spoke of him.
Why I felt his, I don’t know. Maybe it’s that Mr. Vera has been a constant presence, a kindly figure, always willing to give me (and others, I’m sure) a little discount, or some free items if we were cooking for a worthy cause, or tell me with a wave of his hand “just pay me next time,” if I wasn’t buying enough to meet his credit card minimum.
Maybe I felt the sadness because of the personal touch with which he operated in this big impersonal sprawl of a city, or maybe because his little, old world store with its narrow crowded aisles and slightly dusty shelves, is such an anachronism, and I wondered if it will survive.
I thought back on the day I went into the store shortly after my father died. I mentioned my father’s death to Mr. Vera. He had always donated food to the Autocrat West’s (my father’s expatriate New Orleans social club) for their St. Joseph’s Day celebration, as the feast was something Italian immigrants shared with the New Orleans expatriates. He didn’t really remember my father by name, but he commiserated with just the right touch of empathy nevertheless.
Although I was unable to attend the funeral, I passed by the church on Tuesday morning. There was a procession of fire trucks and police cars, and a color guard of the Knights of Columbus, the old world Catholic men’s society, lining the walkway leading to the church’s entrance.
I’m happy to say that Albert Vera, Jr. was at the store on Wednesday morning, continuing to greet customers who came by to pick up a bit of pancetta, and offer their condolences to him.
Rest in peace, Mr. Vera.