The imminent closing of Village Foods in San Mateo will be more than just the closing of a building for many living around the store. It will mark the end of an era -- in part generated by 87-year old proprietor Hank Henning, for the past 51 years.

Born in Germany in 1913, Henning, came to this country as a boy, and worked in his father's grocery store on Haight Street in San Francisco as a meat-cutter.

In 1950, a few years after being discharged from the Army, Hank Henning bought the meat department.

About ten years later he bought out the grocery portion of the store.

Since that time, Henning and his sons have run Village Foods -- three of his nine children followed in his footsteps as meat-cutters. Henning and his wife Betty also have 18 grandchildren.

After 51 years in the same location, San Mateo's Village Foods market will be closing soon, because the owner of the building wants to put a bulk liquor store in its place.

Henning found out recently that unless he paid three times his current rent, the building would be converted to a Beverage and More.

"I offered to buy this building many years ago," Henning said., "But the owner wouldn't sell. He said he didn't need the money."

The Village Market is the only grocery store within walking distance to San Mateo Village and Glendale Village, which has more than 160 homes within a few blocks. Brenda Gretsch, a 33-year resident of San Mateo Village, said "The Village Market is very special to the people in this neighborhood, especially the elderly. They can get to the store with their push-carts and walkers because it is close by. We all depend on that store." She also stated that, "Many customers feel like going to the store is like visiting with family."

Henning said that over the years he started a tradition with his customer's small children. Whenever they entered his store, he made them feel special by offering free a slice of baloney. Now, he says, "the same children are grown up, and I am giving their children a slice of baloney."

"This community is like a family to me," Henning says.

Henning suspects that making the adjustment to retirement may be difficult. "It will be hard to get adjusted to not coming here every day," he says.

For the patrons of Village Foods, dependent upon the store's convenient location, it will be hard to get adjusted to not having Village Foods -- a friendly place to meet neighbors for a chat, a free sandwich for a stranger down on his luck, or a slice of baloney for the little kids in the neighborhood.<

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