WHITTIER LOCAL | A TO Z MART
Alex Lomeli and Rosaura Lomeli are the brother & sister team who co-own the beloved Whittier antique shop, A to Z Mart. This is their story.
Alex: A to Z has been around for sixty years now, we took it over when it was fifty years old. We were in there the day the owner told us he was retiring and selling the business.
Rosaura: He was moving to Utah and he really wasn’t advertising to anyone but he always knew that a customer would end up with it. I was thinking of opening up a pre-school because I was a teacher before. [The previous owner] asked “are you looking to buy a business? I’m not really advertising but if you’re interested I’ll give you more information.”
Rosaura: We didn’t really take it seriously and then he formally sent us a letter saying how much it was. And then it got serious. We had a conversation about what that would entail. We didn’t know a lot about antiques but we could learn and it was already a well-established business. We took over in 2006 and then in 2007 the economy crashed and we were like [laughing] “wow."
Rosaura: You can’t beat our prices, that’s the thing, so we sell more volume. Some antique stores will just make their money off one thing because they’re just sitting on it to make that huge profit. People expect new items at A to Z all the time. It keeps us fresh.
Alex: That’s been going on for sixty years. That’s the thing about A to Z, everybody knows we have a high turnover and they come in to see what we have each week.
Rosaura: We’ve had people cry or get into fights with their significant others over things right in front of us. “You should have bought it and now it’s gone!”
The Lomelis have collected lots of good stories about buying and selling antiques over the years, here's one of them:
Rosaura: I don’t know if you know about Tiffany lamps but they’re worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. This woman didn’t know, it was her parents’, and it was handed down for three generations. We weren’t going to buy it [from her] because we’re decent people, and we told her you better get that insured.
Alex: It was the day right after the La Habra earthquake and she had all her lamps on the floor. And that Tiffany was still on the table! And I asked, “do you mind if I look at that lamp?” And I took the shade off and I knew, the quality of it. I flipped it upside down and it was stamped Tiffany New York. I have a friend who deals in Tiffany lamps and high end lamps like that, he said, “you can offer her 60,000 bucks right now and I’ll take it to her if she’s willing to take it.” And I told him she wasn’t willing to sell it even before she had found out what it was worth. She even told me, “I hate the lamp, I’m just keeping it because it’s a family heirloom.” And it was one of the rarest Tiffany lamps, the Dragonfly lamp. I called [Rosaura] and when I told her I was shaking. Tiffany lamps are usually found in museums! There’s even one at the Huntington Library but it’s not a Dragonfly.
Rosaura and Alex come from a family of seven siblings, five brothers and one sister altogether and Rosaura.
Alex: You know what there’s some brothers that we would never be able to work with [laughing]. And we won’t say any names but we would never be able to work with a lot of our brothers. And I think her and I have different personalities in a way where we don’t really get into it with each other. I think it’s a good balance. She takes care of most of the backstage stuff, bills, and all that. I’m more of a hands-on type guy so it’s a good balance for all of us.
Rosaura: I love the fact that we’re not opening up a bunch of chain restaurants in Whittier. It’s nice to have the mom and pop restaurants in Uptown and to see that it’s staying that way. That’s something different about our city versus other cities.
Alex: Hopefully the whole small business movement continues in Uptown, that’s the biggest thing for me. Seeing all of those family-owned businesses developing.
Rosaura: I love Ricardo Diaz’s restaurants, Vintage Cafe, Pho Whittier…
Alex: And Dakara Sushi...
Rosaura: Oh can’t forget Dakara! We’re there once a week! And we just discovered New Canton, our brothers love it there because of the bar.
Rosaura: I like the small-town feel of Whittier. Because of the shop everywhere I go I run into people I know. Our dentist lives down the street from us. Although it’s a big city it feels very small having a lot of regular customers come through here. Sometimes they just come in to support us because they like the business. A lot of them say “we just want you to stay in business, we don’t want you going anywhere,” so they’ll keep coming in.