Meet Your Merchant: SPD Market celebrates 50 years |

Meet Your Merchant: SPD Market celebrates 50 years

Jeff Ackerman

In a world of fads, loyalty remains a staple at the family-owned-and-operated SPD Markets.

That loyalty – to family, community and customers – has sustained the business through three generations covering 50 years this week.

The SPD name has survived since 1959, but for the last 40 of those years, the company has been owned and operated by the Painter family (the letter “P” in the name), whose Nevada County roots can be traced to the 1880s.

Family patriarch Lawrence Painter opened his first market on Nevada City’s Broad Street in 1951.

“It was right around where Country Collectibles is now,” the 83-year-old said over lunch last week. “I was working for Cardinal Markets at the time, and they were going to close the Nevada City store. So I told them I was interested in buying it, and they made me a good deal.”

He and his wife Carol (she was born on Christmas Day) worked 18-hour days just to make ends meet at the beginning.

Their family grew to four sons, but it was a while before those sons could offer much help.

Eight years after starting his store, Lawrence Painter got another offer that would change the complexion of his small business forever.

“Mr. (Bob) Argall bought a piece of land where the Nevada City store is now (735 Zion St. in the 7 Hills Business District) and asked me and some others if we’d move there if he built a store for us,” Lawrence recalled. “So three of us decided to go for it.

The “S” and “D” in SPD were Bert See and Joe Dilley. See had an auto parts store, and Dilley was a butcher.

“In 1964, Bert and I bought Joe out, and in 1969 I bought Bert out,” Lawrence Painter said. “In 1964, we doubled the size of the store, and that’s one of the reasons he (Joe) wanted out.”

There was no shortage of neighborhood grocery stores in the early days and Safeway provided SPD its only real competition.

“We carried 4,000 or 5,000 items when I started the store,” said Lawrence.

Looking back, SPD probably set the model for the one-stop-shop mega-markets of today.

“You could buy anything from jeans to lawnmowers at our store,” Lawrence remembered.

Although the new location was no longer downtown, it didn’t take long for business to grow.

“It took a little bit to get ramped up, but we immediately started doing more business because we had plenty of parking,” said Lawrence. “We were also ahead of the game in terms of having hardware, a butcher and groceries. We even had a saw shop.”

In 1981, the Painter family opened a second store in Grass Valley, over in what is now the Kmart shopping center on McKnight Way. A few years later a Raley’s supermarket opened right around the corner, and SPD found itself in the middle of serious competition.

“Their prices didn’t scare us,” Lawrence Painter said. “We figured our meat and customer service would carry us, and they did. Our business remained steady.”

The business today is largely in the hands of Lawrence’s four sons; David, Dennis, Doug and Dean. A new generation stands ready to take the helm when those four are ready to retire. One of them is Ben Painter, Dennis’ son.

“I’m really proud of what my grandfather started and what my family has done,” said Ben, who returned to the area after a stint in Maui and a brief career in real estate (“I got in at the start and got out just before the market went south,” he said).

“When I was younger, I thought I’d never want to do this (grocery business), but I’m intrigued by the massive nature of this business,” Ben said. “It’s not quantum physics, but you have a lot of things coming at you at once.

“I don’t foresee anything better than this for me. I’ll do what I can to carry on the family torch,” Ben said.

David Painter is upbeat about the future of SPD.

“We have another generation of family,” David said. “We also have a great staff of people and an extremely loyal customer base.”

Many of SPD’s 140 or so employees have been with the company 20 to 30 years.

“We’ve had several retire over the years,” said David. “Cindy Butterfield has worked for us, I think, 35 years. Lots of people have been here since high school, and we have a lot of second- and third-generation family employees.”

Can SPD continue to compete against the likes of Wal-Mart and others? The Painters think so.

“People take their shopping very personally,” said David. “There is a huge explosion of small businesses today because people are reacting against these huge conglomerates.”

To contact Editor/Publisher Jeff Ackerman, call 477-4299 or e-mail

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