Spike’s Market Revisited

By Deborah Zamaria

Joseph Anthony Balestrieri (Joe A) was born on January 10, 1949 in Martinez. His father, Phillip, was born in in 1917 in Martinez and his mother, Elizabeth (Aiello) Balestrieri, was born in 1919 in Martinez.

His parents grew up across the street from each other on Howard Street (now Marina Vista) and were married at St. Catherine’s in October of 1947. Joe’s dad worked on Mare Island during WWII and his mom, Elizabeth, although she worked at the cannery for a while, was mostly a stay-at-home mom for Joe and his sister, MaryAnn.

phil_mario_joeJoe A’s uncle, Joe Balestrieri, worked for a man named Luperi, aka “Spike,” who owned Spike’s Market. During WWII Mr. Luperi was considered an alien and was relocated by the US government, so Joe Balestrieri bought the market from him. At that time (1942), Spike’s was located at 529 Main Street.

Shortly thereafter, Joe was drafted and Mario, his younger brother, minded the store while he was away.

 

Left to right: Phil, Mario and Joe Balestrieri, co-owners of Spike’s Market, circa 1960. Photo courtesy of Martinez Historical Society

 

When Uncle Joe returned from the war, the store moved, in 1946, to a larger location on Main. Eventually, in July of 1966, Spike’s Market moved to 414 Howard Street, to the basement of Joe A’s grandmother’s house. They had two trucks and changed the name to Spike’s Produce, dealing in wholesale only.

Once the enterprise became Spike’s Produce in the sixties, a typical day would see one truck, driven by Mario, go to Oakland to pick up produce and then deliver to Pacheco and Concord. Joe, the other brother, would also drive to Oakland to pick up produce, and then deliver around Martinez as well as to the ships at the Avon wharf.

Joe A, the current owner of Spike’s Produce, would begin his day at 5:30 a.m., before school, when he was 16. On Mondays and Fridays he would go downtown to the store on Main and set up the racks for the produce before school. When it got very busy in the store, his cousin Josephine Caldarazzo would help out as well. Later, when she worked at Bank of America, she would come over on her lunch hour and help out.

joes_truckSometimes on other mornings, Joe A’s uncles Joe and Mario would get the truck and deliver their load to the Avon wharf to ships at the Shell and Tidewater refineries. They’d load and push the cart down the wharf and unload it. Joe A would also do this when his uncles were busy. One always wanted to be there at least one hour before the ship left port so that the crew could load the produce. Wharf etiquette dictated that you would bring the cart back to its location after unloading it, but not all vendors followed this rule. Franklin Canyon Dairy and the Martinez Laundry also delivered to the ships in port at that time.

Joe A remembers incredibly thick Martinez waterfront fog that made driving precarious. When this writer asked how he managed to do this and then attend school, he simply said, “You just did what you had to do.” The first time he went to Oakland he was only fourteen years old. He had to load the truck (no ramps and the van had no sides, just “sticks” to contain the produce). He learned quickly the art of loading a truck.

Joe A is now (as of 1984), the sole owner of Spike’s Produce, with a fleet of four vans that cover Oakland to Brentwood and many towns in between.

Above: Joe’s truck. The “sticks” on the side were taken from the original Spike’s Produce trucks and restored. Photo by Deborah Zamaria

 

Martinez Historical Society

1005 Escobar Street - Martinez, CA 94553  (925) 228-8160