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Chale's Chair
by Bill Clough
Jul 15, 2013 | 2240 views | 2 2 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Warmed in winter by a Christmas blanket and cooled in summer by a floor fan, Chale’s recliner occupies an honored place in the store. As the shadows lengthened, Chale Salazar often slept in the chair, but covered his head with a box so customers would not notice he was sleeping.
Warmed in winter by a Christmas blanket and cooled in summer by a floor fan, Chale’s recliner occupies an honored place in the store. As the shadows lengthened, Chale Salazar often slept in the chair, but covered his head with a box so customers would not notice he was sleeping.
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Chale Salazar, dusting spices and herbs hanging on the wall. “It’s a one-on-one service. It’s personal here,” Carlos says.
Chale Salazar, dusting spices and herbs hanging on the wall. “It’s a one-on-one service. It’s personal here,” Carlos says.
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CBS grocery, a neighborhood icon for almost half a century. More than 300 customers still come to the mom-and-pop store.
CBS grocery, a neighborhood icon for almost half a century. More than 300 customers still come to the mom-and-pop store.
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CHALE’S CHAIR at The CBS Grocery at 801 West Milam is empty.

“Chale” was Carlos Salazar Sr., who died July 2 at 81.

“Our Facebook page just exploded,” says Chale’s son, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Carlos Salazar, Jr.

“Your dad was an icon on the west side,” someone wrote. But it was County Judge David Silva who pronounced it best: “The west side is never going to be the same.”

Only a few days after the funeral,w Carlos is sitting at a table in a makeshift office in the rear of the store. He twists his head toward the empty chair. “It hasn’t hit me yet,” he says. “As far as I am concerned, he’s still here.”

Chale sat in that chair until about three weeks before he died.

The chair is a living-room rocker, draped in a throw decorated with a Santa Claus. Beside it, a floor fan.

“Dad used to stay in that chair and sleep,” Carlos says, “sometimes with a box over his head.”

Chale and his brother, Ben, built the store in 1968. “CBS” stands for “Chale and Ben Store.”

Why a grocery store?

“Father was a migrant worker,” Carlos remembered. “Then he drove a taxi. Then he went to barber school in San Antonio. He had to hitch-hike. A lot of times he only had one meal a day. It had an everlasting effect.”

Carlos remembers always finding numerous small bags of potato chips, with only a few chips left in the package, carefully saved.

“And milk bottles. Sometimes I’d find them with only a quarter-inch of milk left in them, but if I threw them away, I would get in trouble.”

Chale, he says, knew hunger.

From the day it opened, CBS was a neighborhood symbol of generosity.

“If a city crew was out there working on the roads, Dad would take them soft drinks. Anyone who was hungry got cold cuts.

“Do you know that, back when gas was 28-cents a gallon, we were the first place in Beeville to offer self-serve gas? We were.”

In the 1980s, more stringent environmental regulations forced Chale to abandon the pumps.

A quick measure of whether a customer is a regular are the words used to go to the store. First-time customers say “Let’s go to CBS,” but regulars simply say “Let’s go to Chale’s.”

Among his legacies, perhaps the strongest is a Dum-Dum lollipop.

“Every kid who came into the store got a free Dum-Dum,” Carlos says.

A measure of that legacy is lollipop math.

Each box of 120 Dum-Dums would last a week. Fifty-two boxes equals 6,240 a year. Forty-five years equals 280,800 lollipops given away.

Already, west-side youngsters have politely, hesitantly, asked if free Dum-Dums still will be available.

Absolutely.

“Everyone has a bad day,” Carlos says. “But Chale never had a bad day. If anybody walked through the door, he had a joke for them.”

They’re still coming.

“We have a customer base of more than 300,” Carlos says. “Ninety percent of them are Hispanic, but we have a number of Anglos, too.”

When CBS opened, it was one of seven or eight similar groceries in the neighborhood.

“This is the last mom-and-pop store around,” Carlos says. “We survived the Walmarts and the H-E-Bs of the world — all on the force of Chale’s personality. It’s one-on-one service. It’s personal here.

“He had no prejudices. He always told us to work hard and to respect everyone.”

Carlos has no doubts about the store’s survivability.

“Dad established a base of customers; we’ll continue to stay in business.”

Carlos remembers starting to work in the store when he was 12, stocking bottles and cleaning up.

“I didn’t get to work the register until I was 14,” he recalls.

His memories are interrupted by two youngsters walking through the area.

“Those are Edward’s kids. They’re the ones who are going to pick up the slack. And Edward! My baby brother (Carlos is 57; Edward is 46) used to run around here in diapers. Now, he’s running the store.”

And the store has adapted to the changing times.

It is less of a grocery store today — much of the transactions are for lotto cards and cashing checks. Still, there are toasted oat cereals for sale, along with a wall-full of Mexican herbs and spices, some sold for medicine; some for cooking.

Computers have replaced older cash registers. Chale decided to let the younger siblings handle the new technology.

“He would help stock and clean,” Carlos says.

“Except for when I was in the service, I’ve spent every day of my life here,” he says. When my father was alive, he would open the store at six in the morning. Now, I open up around 7:30. But, he’s not here.

“When it hits me, I know I’m going to break down.”

He glances at Chale’s chair, half expecting it to start gently rocking.

Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.
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thesoundgirl
|
July 15, 2013
I write this as a tribute to the great friendship of "Chale" and my 86 year old dad Rudy Trevino Sr.

My dad and Chale have been best of friends for many years. They attended morning Mass at St. James Catholic Church. They usually were the first to arrive for 7:00am mass, to turn on the lights & light the candles. It was said that on some mornings if Father Pasala was not up they would knock on his door to wake him up for mass. They both took up the collection at Mass for many years. Dad often told me that Chale would arrive at the store early in the mornings and would sleep in his chair, until daddy called him so they could meet at the church parking lot. On mornings when there was not a mass daddy would tell me he was going to McDonalds to get a cup of coffee and to take a cup to Chale.

Today, was the first weekday morning mass that daddy attended since Chale has be gone & I know it was very difficult for him not being able to follow his morning routine to call Chale.

I know my dad & Chale were true friends.

I offer my deepest sympathy to Chale's wife, children & grandchildren, and to my daddy on the loss of his best friend.
garcia0610
|
July 15, 2013
this man is the most caring, sweetest, funniest elderly man i have met. MY KIDS loved this man dearly, i would go in and the first thing he would tell me is how many kids, 15? i loved it that he always gave me a hard time on how many kids we had but never lectured me like everyone else. he has helped many when we needed it as well. there will not be another elderly man that will ever compare to him. MY KIDS are sure gonna miss him and the dum dums, even though carlos and eddie give them still, chale always had the smile and the jokes with my kids