It might be time to go somewhere else for your feta cheese and olives. After 70 years at 2365 Mission St. between 19th and 20th streets, My Big Fat Greek Store, officially Hellenic-American Greek Imports, is up for sale.
If no one buys it, the owner will close its doors at the end of February.
“Too many years, I don’t want to travel 50 miles to run this store and I have other businesses,” said Savas Deligiorgis, who purchased the store in 1966, three years after arriving in the United States as a young diplomat. “I need less responsibility. I have been at this store for 45 years.”
Fit, clean-shaven and dressed casually in slacks and a tight black T-shirt, Deligiorgis said Wednesday he decided six months ago to sell and focus on other obligations that include an auto-dealership, a parking garage and a radio show.
Two buyers have expressed interest, but no sale has been made.
For now, Deligiorgis is clearing out and everything is on sale. Inside, the refrigerator that once held olives, feta cheese and grapevine leaves, is nearly bare.
On Wednesday morning, customers continued to walk into the shop, a sensor’s “ding, ding” announcing each arrival. One elderly woman inquired about the price of some rosaries.
“They’re $3.50,” Deligiorgis said.
“Can I pay $2?” she asked.
No, he said reminding her that everything in the store had already been reduced by 50 to 70 percent.
The customer tried to haggle, but Deligiorgis was adamant.
“It is already priced way down. It is insulting for me that she wants to buy at $2,” he said as the customer left.
Deligiorgis’s mood changed quickly when Tonia Demitriadis, his goddaughter, walked in.
“She cried three times already that the place is closing down,” he said as he warmly greeted his goddaughter.
Now 29, Demitriadis has been coming to the store since she was a child. She now co-produces the 8 p.m. daily radio program on 1400 KTVO-AM that her godfather hosts.
“It is heartbreaking to see,” she said, referring to the store’s closing. “It was such an icon in the community. It is a longstanding unique store”
Deligiorgis said the store helped create roots for more the than 11,000 Greeks living in the Bay area. For him, it was a way out of the life of a diplomat – and a way to gain economic security and freedom. “I didn’t want a boss,” he said.
Still, however, his office is filled with photos from his three years in diplomacy.
“This is a picture of me and Reagan,” he said proudly.
Early on, Deligiorgis lived on the corner of Capp Street. But like many of his fellow immigrants, he soon moved to the suburbs.
“I have seen many changes in the Mission.” he said. “When I came there were a lot Greek Americans, Italians and Irish. Now it is mostly Latinos.”
After he opened the store, he ventured out and bought the parking lot next door. He also began bringing in Greek singers to perform at Bay Area venues and started his radio show.
Earlier in his career, he said, his work as a diplomat and store owner collided. Once, when a magazine journalist came to visit the store. No one else was around, so he served her some cheese. “ Just an hour ago I was talking to the prime minister,” he told her. “and now I am selling you cheese.”
Nowadays Deligiorgis only knows of a few Greek families that live in the Mission. Most have moved out, but still come from all over to shop at his store.
“A family comes all the way from Stockton to buy a special cheese called the Kefalograviera,” he said.
One of his Oakland customers, Ourania Tseratos, visited the store on Wednesday and looked at the many Greek ornaments that filled the space. She eyed a candleholder and asked for the price. Too expensive, she decided and instead bought a small “evil eye” ornament.
“This is meant to protect you,“ Deligiorgis said.
“I am going to miss coming here,” said Tseratos who discovered the store three years ago. “This is where I get my feta and filo dough,” she said, adding that if the store closes she may have to go as far as Daly City to buy the Greek Mountain Tea that she likes.
Deligiorgis said that two interested buyers – one Greek and one non Greek – said they would continue the business.
For his part, Deligiorgis has plenty to do. On Wednesday afternoon he started prepping to record his radio show. Volleyball, he added, was also on the day’s schedule.