Starr Market Reactions: Clive Leeman

by Tyler Suchman on August 16, 2014

The following editorial is from reader Clive Leeman. Personally, I have always found most (yes, most) of Starr’s employees to be apparently unhappy in their jobs, and don’t see how this in any way, shape or form “destroys the middle class.” But there you go. -Tyler

The Shattering of a Community
by Clive Leeman

A few weeks ago, I walked for the first time into the shattered community in the center of Ojai that had been Starr Market. The physical structure has not changed much, but many Starr workers have disappeared. The faces and voices of those beautiful women and men who worked so closely together for many years provisioning Ojai have just been wiped out.

I was told by several Starr employees a few days before Starr Market closed that their new employer would be retaining them all. In fact, on April 29, the Ojai Valley News reported that “current Starr Market employees will be kept on under the new management.”

Now, in a flash, the familiar faces are gone except for a few. The old community has been annihilated.

Starr Market began as Bayless Market on the corner of La Canada and Ojai Avenue in the 1950′s. My wife remembers going with her girlfriends to the Bayless Soda Fountain in the fifties. I started shopping at the Bayless Market from the sixties on, continuing after Bayless moved across the road (Ojai Avenue) to the big parking lot where Starr Market has been located since Bayless was bought by the Starr Family.

We will never forget how the personnel remained the same following that move and how the same faces and voices were there after Bayless became Starr Market. It had evolved into a genuine community.

The Ojai Valley News once wrote about Starr Market:

“An Ojai institution such as this has been a huge part of this community for so many years and it deserves to be remembered.”

As a low income resident of Ojai, I do not begrudge the hiring of low income workers by the new owners, “but I do want to know why the new owners put out the word that they would keep on the Starr employees and then did the opposite.”

“If you still have doubts that the middle class is being destroyed in this country, just look at what happened to Starr Market.”


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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

myrna August 17, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Well, there is no way of knowing the full story of the employees at Starr as so many differing versions were being passed around at the time of the change. What is obvious is that the Starr owner was ready to retire and we should be very content that the sale was to a local resident. I continue to shop at the market. When I meet employees that were employed by Starr I find them very content with their new jobs. Obviously it was a two way street and some Starr folks found that they did not want to continue with the new ownership. I see that these decisions have nothing to do with destruction of the middle class.

We should continue to support our local based merchants. The physical structure of the Starr has indeed changed with new flooring and an outstanding produce section and meat sections that offer organic and sustainable choices. I will not forget the old Starr nor their employees as I have shopped there for over 30 years, but I do embrace the new market with its wonderful changes and find all of the employees to be most friendly and accommodating. Mr. Leeman, for your information the market is now Westridge Midtown … for some odd reason you fail to mention that.

The community is not shattered … it has just changed a bit and I believe the new market deserves our support. We loose the very essence of our country when we fail to support small local business and succumb to the big chains.

I have no association with the new Westridge nor the Starr … just a happy customer to both entities.


Lisa August 17, 2014 at 3:10 pm

I’m with Tyler. There is nothing to back up the assumptions made in this post. How about quotes from former/current employees/owners? If the writer really wants “to know why the new owners put out the word that they would keep on the Starr employees and then did the opposite,” a simple phone call to the new owner would suffice. In what way have you been harmed by the change?


Lynn August 19, 2014 at 11:04 am

I do not believe the Starr family bought the store. I believe the Starrs inherited it, as Mr. and Mrs. Bayless had no children, so they left it to JT Starr.


Lynn August 19, 2014 at 11:17 am

From what I learned, after chatting with Starr employees before the ownership change was that the decision to stay or go was theirs. In that sense, the new owners technically retained them all. It seemed that the new owners would be changing it to a non-union store, so the benefits situation would not be the same. That is why some of the Starr people decided to separate. It was their decision to leave, from what I understand.


clive leeman August 21, 2014 at 7:54 pm

Clive Leeman wrote:
Dear Tyler,

Thank you for publishing my piece on the shattering of Starr Market. I disagree on two empirical grounds with your critique that,
“Personally, I have always found most (yes, most) of Starr’s employees to be apparently unhappy in their jobs….”

1) From the 1960′s to June of this year, Bayless and Starr Markets always had a low turnover rate among the workers. Sure, you could find some disgruntled employees, but if you were a frequent shopper over those decades, you could not help but notice the constantly familiar faces of the staff.

2) My second empirical point is related closely to the first. From the 1960′s to June of this year, all employees were clear about one thing: they were more than happy to have a union which guaranteed job security, good wages, and good pensions. That’s why the turnover was so low.

How you can describe these emplooyees as “unhappy” is beyond me.



Brad Hudson August 21, 2014 at 10:00 pm

While a huge union supporter, I don’t think salary and benefits automatically make you a happy employee. A lot of people stay in jobs where they’re miserable. The fact that a customer is happy to see your familiar face does not necessarily mean you’re putting on a happy one. I get smiles back from almost every checker and courtesy clerk at Vons. Can’t make that same claim about Starr.


Tyler Suchman August 21, 2014 at 10:25 pm

Hi Clive – I agree with Brad. You may see a correlation between a good job with bennies and happiness, but correlation does not imply causation.


StlyDan August 25, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Shattered community and destroyed middle class?…That is a bit dramatic.
The author seems to ignore the fact that Westridge has been a part of our community for quite some time and provides a great local service with great employees. It may be sad to see some of the familiar faces go, but it hardly shatters our community.


myrna August 25, 2014 at 5:51 pm

Right on Dan. so important to shop local.


myrna August 25, 2014 at 5:51 pm

Right on Dan. so important to shop local.


Lynn August 27, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Another reason why turnover was low was because many of the Starr employees were related. JT and Mrs. Starr, their three children, spouses of Starr children. Grandchildren of JT and Mrs. Starr….


Dennis Rice October 23, 2014 at 12:28 pm

I am pleased to see the West family take on Starr. David West makes a point of offering local products at reasonable prices. He and his family are part of the community, so a dollar spent there will come back around. When I first arrived in Ojai, Bayless was great, yet I feel that it deteriorated over the years. I am looking forward to seeing the place evolve a bit.


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