I just heard our local Lucky grocery store is closing! After over 30 years of serving my neighborhood, the iconic store will close its doors Sept. 28. I'm sad about losing my friendly food store, but my husband is devastated.

Tom does all the cooking now that I've given up that particular hobby. I was never very good at it, just made the basics so the kids would grow up to build strong bones (bread), see in the dark (carrots) and have curly hair (crusts).

But once the kids left home, Tom took over the kitchen and turned it into a gourmet playground, producing such exotic dishes as barbecued pizza, three-meat meatloaf and four-cheese mac and cheese. And here I thought pizza was delivered by Dominos, meatloaf was in the frozen food section and mac and cheese came in a box.

Tom turned the Lucky store into his own personal hangout. He went there nearly every day and twice on Sunday (because he always forgot some ingredient.) He knew almost all the employees by name -- Kathy the baker, Anna the assistant manager, Bhavesh the produce guy, Bill the dairy guy, Meredith the checkout girl, and Big Rodney, jack-of-all-trades.

Now I think he blames himself. If only he had bought more food, maybe the store wouldn't be closing its doors. Apparently our Lucky store has gone through five incarnations since it first opened. But no matter the name, it was still the same old store with the same friendly employees. When we ran into Anna the manager in Disneyland one time, we hugged her like she was a long-lost relative. When Howard the dairy guy retired, we gave him a card and wished him well. When we found out Toni the checker had a kid who liked to read, we gave her an autographed book and some "secret code" cards to collect. And when I discovered Summer, one of my DVC students, working in the flower department, I got to keep track of her academic progress.


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These people are -- were -- like family.

Now we're going to have to drive a little further to find fresh deli bacon, personalized birthday cakes and dirt-cheap wine. We're going to have to hunt for all the hidden items we're used to finding so easily at "our" store, like those chocolate straws (located in the dairy section) and that fresh pasta (refrigerator department) and the candied cranberries (in the produce department.) We're gonna need a map.

Oh, well. Things change. Stores come and stores go. I'm still getting over the loss of Mervyns, Longs, Blockbuster, Borders, El Balazo, Fresh Choice, Baskin-Robbins and so many other local stores. I guess we'll find other places to frequent, other employees to befriend, other products to try. But it won't be the same without a free sample from Andika the deli guy, a chat with Ann the manager, a shared recipe from Nancy the meat lady and all the other great Lucky employees.

They say, when one door closes, another one opens. ... What's that? My local Chili's is closing! You're kidding me! Apparently when one door closes, another one does too.

We need to keep shopping locally so we don't lose any more friends.

Reach Penny Warner at www. pennywarner.com.