Noe Valley Voice June 2000

'Uncle Chuck' of Sun Valley Dairy

By Alison Pence

It is my good fortune to live near a corner store with fresh baguettes, coffee, fruits, vegetables, pet food, Pampers, a good copy machine, and a beaming, good-natured proprietor.

Chuck Rafidi, who owns Chuck's Sun Valley Dairy at 28th and Church, has endeared himself to his customers by going the extra mile. When my son repeatedly got the same colored ball from the Superball machine when he really wanted the ball with the stars in it, Chuck opened his drawer and gave him the prize. When my friend developed a serious illness that required a special diet, Chuck ordered soy products and other items for her. He will run a tab or accept your UPS delivery. "I believe in extra service," he says. "I try to make everyone feel comfortable so they will want to come back."

Chuck appears to be the ideal manager for a busy Mom and Pop. He is always even-tempered when there is a rush, and serves everyone with courtesy and respect.

Born Shawki Rafidi in the West Bank nine miles north of Jerusalem, Chuck came here after high school to live with his brother and sister. He arrived in San Francisco in 1966, pre­Summer of Love.

Chuck attended City College and then went to work for Macy's in 1968. For 10 years he worked at Macy's Warehouse, doing everything from gift wrap and jewelry repair to stringing tennis rackets. He also worked in his brother's store in the Ingleside District. But when he got married in 1976, he found that his income was not enough to support his growing family. That's when he decided to look for a store to buy.

Sun Valley was once a local dairy, with its processing and distribution center where the Alemany Farmer's Market is now. The dairy had a chain of stores throughout the city. When Chuck bought the store in 1979, he kept the sign hanging over the door and personalized it by putting his name at the top. He gets to the store at 8 in the morning and leaves at closing, 10:30 most weeknights and 11:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

A Family Man

Chuck is 52 years young. He lives in Daly City with his wife, Samia, and their three children, Claudia, 22, George, 21, and Christopher, 13. Although his free time is limited, he enjoys bowling with his youngest and also likes to walk. You won't find him watching much football or baseball until the teams enter the playoffs.

May 15, 2000, was Chuck's 21st anniversary under the Sun Valley sign. He has worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, for most of that time. Samia, George, and Christopher all work at the store, too. Chuck has one employee, Tim Aliopolous, who cashiers, restocks the goods, and "is an all-round help," he says.

The store is open every single holiday throughout the year. Still, "it's a good business to be in," says Chuck. "You're your own boss, and the long hours pay off. I hope to retire in eight more years."

Whether it's due to his hard work or family and customer support, Chuck can be proud of his achievement. His daughter is graduating from college, and his eldest son is completing his third year of college this year.

Asked about the changes he's seen in Noe Valley over the past 20 years, Chuck says, "What I notice are the changes in the people. I meet them as children, and they grow up and have children of their own."

One customer who used to bring her nephews to the store began calling him Uncle Chuckles about 15 years ago. The boys, now grown, still call him that. Other friends and customers shortened it to Uncle Chuck. "I like it," he says. "It's fun, but respectful."

Many of Chuck's customers play the California State Lottery. There is a Quick Pick setup at the front door, and inside he has every kind of scratch card you can imagine. I asked him if he'd received anything when people had won.

"There have been some big winners at this store," he said, "but only the top winnings pay. A customer won $26,000 in the Fantasy, and I got a half of a percent or around $130. If someone were to win the Lotto, I could get $5,000 per million."

Let's try to do it for him, gang.

Despite the Dangers

In the past, there have been robberies at gunpoint. There have also been three or four break-ins. But despite the dangers of operating a corner store late at night, and the long hours standing behind the counter, Chuck likes his business and enjoys helping others. "That's why I do it."

So the next time you're in the neighborhood, drop by and see him. (He has four years left on a five-year lease, so he should be here for a while.)

"Chuck is the best neighbor in the whole wide world," says Trudee Gardner of Key Kraft, in the next block of Church.

That about sums it up for all of us.