Shoppers at Canyon Market had better take note of a familiar sight there, because it won’t be around much longer. That would be Bill Foley at the cash register. After fourteen years Bill, 69, is retiring. March 31 will be his last day.
Bill, a native of Philadelphia, came to the city in 1976 soon after a stint in the navy. One of his buddies had called him and said he needed some roommates to share his flat on Geary. “The following week another buddy and I set out, towing my VW Beetle behind his Chevy.”
He spent the next twenty-plus years working in restaurants, tending bar, waiting tables and managing, starting at the Victoria’s Station on Broadway.
Now a resident of Noe Valley with his wife and son, Bill happened to discover that Canyon had warm fresh baguettes in the afternoon, so he and his son became regulars. “I was a stay-at-home dad for a long time. When my son started high school I wasn’t needed for that.” He saw an ad on Craigslist for a job at the market and, two days after Richard and Janet Tarlov interviewed him, he was hired. The job evolved with the business and the Tarlovs kept finding more things for him to do. His main job at first was on the “front end,” supervising the coffee bar and the cashiers. Then he took on more responsibility as an all-around store manager, which is what he does to this day.
The market has around 87 employees, fewer than pre-pandemic times, but it is by far the largest employer in Glen Park.
When the Tarlovs hired Bill, he was thankful. He says, “I worked directly with Richard and Janet for years. I learned a lot from them and after awhile I felt it was my responsibility to do things the way they’d do it. They wanted customer service like a neighborhood store, to be done right and with consistency, and they wanted everyone to be happy. I try to instill that in the people we hire and I try to lead by example.”
“What to say about Bill?” mused Janet. “When I interviewed Bill for this job, I tried (as I do with any candidate) to explain the demands of running the store. It’s 7 days a week, early mornings, late nights, all the game days and, in particular, the holidays. In the scheduling, the sacrifices can be significant. Bill’s response stood out from any candidate before or since. “I can wait my turn.”
Janet continued, “Bill’s generosity in sharing his talents with Canyon Market has been beyond expectation. He is kind. He is patient. His sound judgement has been invaluable. He truly loves working with the customers and staff. He loves the store. He loves food and is a terrific cook. He has that rare ability to meet each person without judging them ahead of time–listening carefully to what they are saying and responding with compassion and humor. The store won’t be the same without Bill, but it’s his turn and we couldn’t be happier for him and his family as they begin this new chapter in their lives.”
As to any particular challenges on the job, Bill came up with this: “The cold. It’s so cold in the store. But you learn to wear layers and you get used to it.”
He had much more to say about the gratifying aspects. In fact, he became downright reflective and wistful. “All the people in the community that I get to chat with, the families that I’ve gotten to see grow up. I’ve known mothers before they were mothers. And the same mothers, their children are now twelve years old. I check in with the parents to see how their kids are doing. I’ve seen so many young kids grow up.” Bill particularly loves his connection with the very young kids. A lot of them want to run up and give him a hug. “I’m told they’ll come to the register when I’m not there and they’ll go, ‘WHERE’S BILL?’ It makes me laugh.”
Many of the positions in the market are entry level and flexible and suit the needs of students and other young people. Most of them have grown up in the city and every now and then they’ll drop by the market. Bill got used to them cycling in and out. He is still in contact with a lot of them over the years and has developed lasting friendships. There’s a group that he goes to baseball games with.
It’s full circle on how Janet described Bill, how he’s tried to do the job, and how he’s seen by those he works with.
One of his co-workers and friends, Quin Graddy, 35, grew up in Glen Park and started working on and off at the market after high school. Now he’s the grocery department manager. What first comes to Quin’s mind about Bill is his demeanor and his respect for anybody throughout the store regardless of their position. “He has a lot of patience. He’s been a strong leader in setting an example of how to work through situations and problems and not get stressed out. It’s not only a quality of his professionalism but it’s very much an endearing part of his personality. It’s going to be really hard to replace that.”
Quin told of an incident early on when he was in college and working as a stocker in the market. It was five minutes before quitting time and he knocked over a huge stack of half-gallon bottles of Straus milk. “About 250 lbs. came crashing down and flooded the walk-in refrigerator and I just freaked out. Bill came and was very composed and helped even though it meant he’d be late in leaving. He set the standard for what you do in those situations. In my approach to becoming a manager he provided a lot of mentorship and acknowledging my work. To have somebody that set an example for me, and years later for him to come back and say that he respected the work that I did, it really made everything come around.”
There are a lot of names and faces passing through the market and Bill admits he can’t remember all the names, but he knows all the faces. During the two or so years of the Covid-19 pandemic there have been a lot of new customers. “I’ve been looking at their eyes only. So now the masks are coming off so I’m seeing people for the first time and they’re seeing me for the first time, which is kind of crazy!”
After March 31, Bill is going to double down on his great passion—golf. He might even get a part-time job on a golf course. He also wants to get back into fishing.
For a send-off he’ll probably have a drink at the Glen Park Station bar with his co-workers.
When asked if there was any message Bill wanted to send out to the neighborhood, he said, “I’m not going to get a chance to say goodbye to everybody, so ‘Thank you, Glen Park.’”