Fort Collins community members have been entering and exiting Tony Espinoza’s life and checkout lane for 40 years. Until its recent closure, Espinoza worked as a food clerk and checker at the Safeway in Old Town.
“I worked at the Safeway in Old Town for almost 40 years,” Espinoza said. “I started working there the end of my junior year.”
When he was first hired, Espinoza said he planned to work at Safeway for one year and quit upon graduation.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would end up working at the store for this long,” said Espinoza.
Espinoza said he is a proud student and graduate of Colorado State University with degrees in Spanish language and literature.
“I used my Spanish during each shift I worked at the downtown store,” Espinoza said. “There was an international flair at the Safeway in Old Town.”
When Espinoza started working at Safeway, he said Fort Collins was a smaller community and the University was about half the size it is now.
“When I started Safeway, it was one of the best paying jobs and best benefits you could have in this community,” Espinoza said. “It still is.”
In addition to working at Safeway, Espinoza is a teacher.
“I have taught for many years in the Poudre School District,” Espinoza said. “I teach mostly intermediate and advance classes in the international baccalaureate program and at Front Range Community College.”
June Marcisofsky, a fellow checker at the new Safeway on Harmony where Espinoza now works, has known Tony for the past thirty years.
“Tony is the best,” Marcisofsky said. “You could not get any better.”
When the store’s closure was announced, Espinoza said many customers and friends who had been shopping at the store for years showed friendly gestures and attitudes towards the employees.
“Each of the stores in town have their own personality,” Espinoza said. “The store I worked at had a very close knit community between the customers and employees.”
Espinoza experienced the community’s response to the Old Town Safeway’s closing first-hand.
“There was shock, anger and sadness when the store closed,” Espinoza. “The store had a unique presence in that location for seventy-five years. One of the things that surprised me were people’s random acts of kindness. People brought us cards, gifts and personal invitations. I was not expecting this; it was very heartwarming.”
Espinoza said he created many friendships working at the Old Town Safeway.
“We had people from all walks of life come through the store’s entrance in Old Town,” Espinoza said. “Artists, the elderly, homeless people. All very wonderful and unique people. The clientele at the downtown store was a microcosm of the world.”
During Espinoza’s last couple of days at Safeway, he gave out hand-written thank you cards to some of the longtime customers he knew. The last sentence on each card ended with the phrase, “from the bottom of my cart.”
Espinoza’s time with Safeway can be used as an example for current CSU students.
“If you find a job that you are passionate about, you will never feel like you have worked a day in your life,” Espinoza said. “When you find that job or career, find a company that has similar interests and values. You will grow personally and professionally together.”