There were drinks, music, and even a tiny baby cow shipped in from Sonoma Creamery for the kids to pet. The whole gathering felt more like a country faire than a corporation’s birthday party, but according to Oliver’s founder, Steve Maass, that was kind of the idea.
“There’s so few independent [grocery stores] left. You could really count them on one hand in Sonoma County. I think it’s a shame,” Maass said. “Being part of a community, staying local, supporting local business, that’s really what’s important.”
And Oliver’s has succeeded in weaving itself into the fabric of Sonoma County. With over 1,200 employees and four stores, it’s made a business of supporting local farmers and retailers. Its work hasn’t gone unacknowledged, either. Recently the City Council of Cotati proclaimed Sept. 15th, 2018 as Oliver’s Market Day.
But accolades, while nice, aren’t why he originally started the business. According to Maass, it all began with a diagnosis.
“My wife had stage four ovarian cancer. She lived 31 years with it, but I needed health insurance and I needed at least 12 employees in order to get that health insurance,” Maass said. “Either I couldn’t work and go on welfare, I was working all the time, or I could get a business together with 12 people.”
Eventually all great parties have to end. Attendees lingered even as the band packed up. The booths closed down, the day’s shadows grew long and soon La Plaza Park was just a park again.