In this day and age of online grocery shopping, self-check out and club stores, Louie Kee Market is an anomaly.
It’s the kind of neighborhood grocery where a customer can order just one slice of bologna – if that’s all you want – greet employees who know you by name, or buy cuts of meat you won’t find anywhere else.
But by the end of this month, it will all be history.
Louie Kee Market, at 1041 Tulare St., will close after 93 years.
Family patriarch and store owner Sherman Louie, 88, says it’s time.
“This store has been my life, and I have no regrets about that because I really appreciated all the people that have patronized our store,” he said, taking a short break Monday in his cluttered office. “But I’d like to do some traveling, some fishing, and maybe a little casino work.”
Founded by his parents, Kee and Effie Louie, the store has been operated by the Louie family for four generations, making it one of the longest-running, family-operated grocery stores in Fresno. Family members say the name was flipped for the business name.
To many in west Fresno, this small store with only five aisles but a 36-foot-long meat counter became an institution and a cornerstone of the community. Not only could you find specialty meats like hog’s head cheese, chitterlings, and turkey gizzards, but the store also became a welcoming place for the neighborhood.
“The relationship between the community and this market is a personal one,” said Rey Wallace, a retired Fresno police officer who used to patrol the area in the 1980s. “The connections are very strong, and when it closes there will be a huge void.”
For teenagers in this struggling neighborhood, the market became the first place they found work. In the early days, Effie Louie would provide credit to those who didn’t have enough money to buy groceries.
At one of the store’s previous locations in Chinatown, there was a row of cubbies with slips of paper to keep track of what people owned. There also was a cigar box stuffed with slips from customers who couldn’t pay their debt.
“My mom gave credit to so many people because she knew they needed help,” said Mayme Gong, one of Kee and Effie Louie’s nine children. “She didn’t get angry at those that didn’t pay. That’s the kind of person she was.”
Longtime customer Peggy Lee Johnson said she is going to miss the family and the store. In the wintertime, the store would deliver her groceries because she doesn’t like to go out in her motorized wheelchair in the cold.
“When I heard the store was closing, it was like hearing that someone in your family was gone,” she said. “The Louies are like my family. And we have taken care of each other. When their mom died and then my mom died, we grieved together.”
Kevin Louie, Sherman’s son and one of three children who help manage the store, said one of the most difficult parts of closing was explaining it to customers.
“That part is really hard, it’s emotional,” he said. “We grew up in this neighborhood and went to school with our customers.”
Kevin Louie said the building will be available for sale once the closure of the store winds down. He hopes it can be reopened as a grocery store and the mural on the outside of the store kept intact.
Although Louie Kee has been the market of choice for many in west Fresno, there is also a FoodMaxx several blocks away, meaning the neighborhood won’t be without a place to shop.
Former employee Rene Parrish came to the store Monday afternoon to say goodbye. She was hired by Sherman Louie in 1981 at the age of 18. She worked there for six years and said it was like no other place she ever has worked.
It wasn’t unusual to be invited for family dinners or taken on trips. In 1982, the Louies closed the store and took all the employees on a trip to Disneyland.
“You were truly treated like family,” Parrish said. “They are very special people.”