To all the nice people of Bakersfield, Kern County, the USA and the rest of the world, I want to say something today: Thank you for shopping at the Emporium Western Store since 1909.

My name is Al Gonzales, but most everyone in Bakersfield knows me as  “Big Al.” I was born at what is now called Kern Medical Center in 1935, attended Fairfax School and Garces High School, and graduated from Bakersfield College.

I met my wife-to-be, Jeannie Carr, from China Lake, at BC. We had six great kids, Greg, Celia, Mark, Sandra, Karen and Keith. We were married for 50 years and eight months before I lost Jeannie to cancer.

I started working at the Emporium Western Store in 1965. Al and Rose Goldwater and Jessie Baraza and I were the crew. Al Goldwater, aka “Little Al,” was one of the nicest people you could ever meet or work for.

As business picked up Danny Lipco came on board, and later Al’s daughter Carol came to work with us. The business continued to grow and we bought the old Bank of America building and moved from our store at 1219 19th Street down the block to 1031 19th.

The new store was much larger and we had a full parking lot. Over the years we held outdoor concerts in that parking lot, people like the Bellamy Brothers, Chris LeDeaux, and the Smoking Armadillos. After the movie “Urban Cowboy,” with John Travolta, was released, our business boomed even more.

Over the years we dressed the Sheriff’s Mounted Posse, the Rodeo Queens for the Glennville and Tehachapi rodeos, the Kern County Posse Rodeo, Miss Rodeo California and Miss Rodeo USA.

Over the years I became known as the hat guy. I shaped hats for such stars as Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Tony Curtis, Jack Palance and many others.

Little Al passed away in 1992 and his son Stephen Goldwater joined our crew. Business continued to boom and I had three wonderful bosses, Danny, Carol and Stephen.

Danny Lipco has since passed away and Carol has retired. Stephen runs the business now and we have always had great help — Debra, Mickey, Rosie, Terra, Kristen, Lady Di, Leti, Sonia, Mary, Ray, Mark, Fred, Bill, Johnny, Josh, Mike, Zack, Tom …. So many more -- too many to mention, but they are not forgotten.

I want to thank Little Al, Rose, Carol, Danny and Stephen for the 50 years that I spent at this great store, a Bakersfield Institution for 109 years. I want to thank all the wonderful customers it has been my pleasure to serve over the years, many of whom have become great friends.

Because of declining health, I have had to retire, but my heart will always be with the Emporium, the staff and its many wonderful customers.

Love and luck, “Big Al” Gonzales.

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