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When 2 Traffic Lights Glowed in Walnut Creek

A story of the Walnut Creek community and the generations that ran Lupoi's Market on Ygnacio Valley Road.

By Judy Teames

Let me give you a little glimpse into my memory of Lupoi's Market beginnings.

Our Walnut Creek family roots go back to 1929 when my father's uncle, Giovanni Lupoi, came to Walnut Creek via Ellis Island from Sinopoli, Italy. The Walnut Creek area, with its golden rolling hills, warm climate, and a landscape swathed with nut and fruit tree orchards and lush vineyards, reminded him of the home he left behind. When arriving in the Bay Area, Giovanni Lupoi was mistaken for a Spanish outlaw named Caranza. After certificates and immigration papers were checked, Uncle John was cleared from the mishap; however, Caranza became a name that seemed to stick. With the exception of a few Ole Timers still living and changing generations coming and going, Caranza grew older and everyone just knew him as Uncle John.

Bartering, Italian style, my Great Uncle John began to sell seasonal nuts, fruits and vegetables by the side of the road. In time, he carved out a fine reputation for having the best produce around, making his way from the Caldecott Tunnel down the two lane country road into Orinda, Moraga and Walnut Creek. With a horse-drawn wooden wagon crammed with his hand-picked goods, he settled on Mount Diablo Boulevard, one building up from where Kinkos is currently located. With business booming, the wagon was replaced by a small panel truck, that journeyed back and forth to the local growers and the Oakland Market in search of the perfect produce for his customers.  

It was 1946 when my mother and father, Dorothy and Tony Lupoi, along with a train full of soldiers returning home from the war, arrived into the Martinez Train Station. The newlyweds joined Uncle John's venture, working long hard hours, living in a one-room hotel on Main Street with a shared bathroom down the hall.

It was a time when two traffic lights glowed through the streets of Walnut Creek and we bought a three-scoop ice cream cone for 20 cents at the Greyhound Bus Station on the corner of Civic and Main Street. It was quite the eyesore, our little fruit stand with its bold red letters that said, "Lupoi Drive-In Fruit Stand." Lined up on crates and in rickety wooden bins, our produce stood proudly as my Dad and Great Uncle John waited on the customers. The Fruit Stand was a shack of clapboard and wooden foundation, not meeting the codes with today's standards by any means, but this was an era of "Mom and Pop" fruit-stand splendor. Entrepreneurship meant terms such as "The school of hard knocks," "elbow grease" and sheer determination etched with makeshift imagination.  

My mom and dad moved up in the ranks from Fruit Stand owners to a real building with a solid foundation of mortar and reputation. In the early sixties they moved from Mount Diablo Boulevard to Ygnacio Valley Road. The store closed in 1989. After the building had been torn down, I stood on the empty little piece of land, looking around, I wondered how did all those shelves of grocery items, pop shed, a deli, a fish store and parking places all fit into this tiny area. We seemed to defy space itself, contained with family, friends and community.

I am thankful to have been a part of this wonderful City of Walnut Creek. While progress is a necessary bridge to cross, every generation will be looking back at some point in time. Progress bridges these generations, leaving a legacy that spans itself from one human being to another —  we call it community.  

Judy Teames lives in Portland, Ore., where she writes children's books (unpublished as yet). She is a doula, assisting women with labor and delivery. She is a retired bagger, shelf cleaner, sweeper and grocery clerk from Lupoi's Market. She is the daughter of Tony and Dorothy Lupoi.

Joseph David Dacus August 20, 2012 at 04:22 PM
When I moved to Walnut Creek in 1981, I quickly heard about Lupoi's Market. How lucky I was to enjoy shopping there. I think at that time the only place to get a cup of regular coffee after 8 pm was Lyon's on Main. No one knew what you were talking about if you asked for an espresso! For someone who was a former Berkeley resident THAT was a challenge, but I was lucky to consistently find great produce at Lupoi's. Thanks Judy!
Lance Howland (Editor) August 21, 2012 at 02:42 PM
Hal: When your brother was working on the Emporium building, what did the surrounding area look like? Were there any stores or restaurants? -- Lance Howland, editor, Walnut Creek Patch
Switch August 23, 2012 at 01:03 AM
God bless you. The house I grew up in was on Walnut Blvd. My mother is full Genovese found great comfort in shopping at an Italian owned/operated market. I remember my mother raving about the produce and griping about the parking. Classic Northern Italian, can't be completely happy. To this day if the conversation ever circles around to the Walnut Blvd house Lupoi's will be brought up. If my memory serves after Lupoi's sold it became Love's market and wasn't there an A&W right across the street? Good memories, thank you.
Vincent Lupoi March 01, 2014 at 03:14 PM
Hi Judy, I hope you remember me, Your cousin Vince. Your article brought back memories.

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