We got a notice in the mail that the El Cajon City Planning Commission would soon hold a meeting to determine if they should allow a 7-11 Convenience Store on property adjacent to our neighborhood. This was in the mid-to-late 1960’s and we were living in a development known as Olive Hills Estates. The houses were nice, modern homes but certainly not “estates.

We considered the notice and talked about it and came up with two objections. We had noticed that in neighborhoods with 7-11’s or mom and pop grocery stores there was a lot of trash scattered up the block. It was all candy bar wrapper, soda cups, and aluminum soda cans that kids cast off as they wandered up the street.

The second problem would be the traffic consideration. The driveway for the 7-11 would be accessed from Greenfield Drive, a busy street.

Pat and I went to the hearing and both spoke our piece. Our eloquence was for nothing, as the Planning Commission voted to allow the granting of the permits to build the store. We got the impression that they were more interested in the tax revenues than they were in our efforts to keep our yard clean.

Time passed and a strip mall was built, anchored by the 7-11. It wasn’t really that bad. The neighborhood kids were good about not stringing trash up and down the block. The 7-11 was operated by a man named Bertolucci. I don’t know if he was the franchisee or a paid manager. He was probably in his late 40’s or early 50’s and was one of those red-haired Italians with a ruddy complexion. He always had a smile and was liked by all ages. The kids called him “Mr. Bert” and I think he knew every kid in the neighborhood by name.

Back in those days, the neighborhoods of the city were pretty safe. Even though our kids were young, we allowed them to make the one block trek to the store. We had to approve each trip but they were allowed to enjoy a Slurpee now and then.

One Saturday morning, Pat and I were going someplace with the kids and stopped at 7-Eleven to pick up some snacks. Mr. Bert greeted us and then asked if he could speak to Pat and I privately. He ushered us to a corner and then started telling us about soda pop bottles and how they were returned for a refund of the bottle deposit. He said that the empty bottles were stored out in back of the building until the distributors picked them up and returned them to the bottling plant. He said that our daughter, Terri, then 6 or 7 years old, would stop in the alley and pick up as many bottles as she could carry and then go around to the front door and go in and collect the deposit money for them. Then, she would use her earnings to buy a Slurpee. Bertolucci said he knew what she was doing and didn’t mind because she was a nice kid. However, the gratuities started to get out of hand. Terri was bringing a little friend with her. Then, it seemed that she was bringing the whole neighborhood with her. That’s when Mr. Bert had to put a stop to the great bottle refund enterprise and why he was talking with us. He wanted to make sure that Terri understood that what she was doing was wrong.

Later, Pat and I were alone with Terri and told her that Mr. Bert had mentioned that she was buying a lot of Slurpees and we wondered where she was getting the money. She said she had found this neat place out in the alley where there were stacks of bottles. She said she would gather enough bottles to buy a Slurpee and then go to the store and sell them. She was just as happy as if she had found buried treasure. We had to burst her bubble and tell her that those bottles in the alley already belonged to the store and that Mr. Bert was buying his own bottles from her. We went on to explain that Mr. Bert knew what she was doing but let her get away with it. Terri was mortified. She was the type of kid that always wanted to do everything right and hated to think she had made a mistake. He next time she went to the store she told Bertolucci she was sorry and we all went back to the status quo…peace in the valley.

Dave and Pat Thomas
February 23, 2017


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