Serving Port Lavaca for 60 years (w/ video)
March 10, 2014 at 4:02 p.m.
Updated March 9, 2014 at 10:10 p.m.
PORT LAVACA - Adan G. Chavana Sr. knows something about longevity.
The 85-year-old has found it in life, love and business.
Chavana and his wife, Bertha Chavana, 79, have owned Chavana's Grocery and Market in Port Lavaca for 60 years.
Although money transfers have become the store's bread and butter, groceries were once its main commodity.
"It's the oldest family-owned store in town run by the same operators," Chavana said. "Others that are still in business are run by sons or grandsons of the original owners."
In 1952, Chavana left his hometown of Falfurrias for Port Lavaca, where he found a job as an operator at Alcoa.
He had married two years earlier and had managed his father's meat market for four years after high school graduation.
"I had new ideas, and my dad was old-fashioned," Chavana said.
Chavana's father owned a "mini-Wal-Mart" 23 miles outside Falfurrias before he opened the meat market. Merchandise ranged from groceries and clothing to shoes and tires.
In Port Lavaca, the Chavanas opened a tiny 18-by-30-foot grocery store on Benavides Street in 1954 while Adan Chavana continued to work shifts at Alcoa.
"I told my dad that you couldn't find a store open in Port Lavaca after 6 p.m. or on Sundays," Chavana said.
Groce-Wearden Company in Victoria agreed to stock the store. Chavana had good credit with the wholesaler, which had stocked his father's store from its warehouse in Alice.
The store expanded in 1957 and again in 1964 when the couple built a 4,000-square-foot reddish-brown brick building.
Bertha Chavana managed the grocery store while her husband worked at Alcoa to provide health insurance for their children.
"We have seven beautiful children, and we love them all equally," Adan Chavana said. "All of them went to college."
The family lived on the income generated by the store while the money Adan Chavana earned as an operator went into an education account for his youngsters as well as real estate investments.
"Some days, I'd have to leave the store to have babies," Bertha Chavana said. "The last one gave me five minutes to get to the hospital."
The mother brought her infants to the store every day and watched over them in baby baskets until they were old enough to stay home with babysitters. The Chavanas lived nearby.
During its heyday, the store served crews of 28 shrimp boats as well as other Gulf Coast fishermen and tugboat crews. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway brought sailors on larger ships into the store.
"What the captain ate, they all ate," Chavana said. "So we'd sell big hams, entire hindquarters or 90 trout."
Migrant farmers who arrived in Port Lavaca to pick cotton also frequented the store. They shopped as late as midnight, Bertha Chavana said.
Six to eight wooden shelves stocked with canned goods and other groceries formed aisles inside the store. Fresh produce, meats, frozen foods, candy, cold beverages, clothing, sundries and foods prepared at the counter grill were among the offerings.
The Chavanas installed a meat counter with the purchase of a meat and bone cutter, slicer, grinder and cutlet machine.
"Instead of selling hamburger for 39 cents per pound, I could sell cutlets for 69 cents per pound," Adan Chavana said. "The $600 cutlet machine paid off right away."
From the counter grill, schoolchildren purchased 35-cent "Bertha" burgers during their lunch breaks. They also bought hot dogs, Frito pies and French fries.
Nancy Pomykal, justice of the peace for Precinct 5, recalled walking from the high school to Chavana's for lunch with a group of her friends.
"We felt all grown-up going off school grounds to eat," Pomykal said. "They were always delightful people, and we felt safe hanging out there."
The Chavana children produced 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
In 1994, Adan Chavana retired from Alcoa after 41 years and 9 months as an operator. He and Bertha celebrated 64 years of marriage March 5.
"Work keeps me active and young," Adan Chavana said. "One of these days, I'll give up and go home."