There is always a local angle if you look
by Sam Matthews
Feb 28, 2014 | 1550 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
There might not always be a local angle in stories coming from near and far, but more times than you can imagine, one pops up.

Such was the experience I had a couple of weeks ago. Actually, it was my wife, Joan, who saw a possible LA (local angle) while reading an article in the New York Times Magazine titled “Money on the Game.” It told of the explosive growth in betting on sporting events during recent years.

She noted the story had been written by James Vlahos and asked me, “Wasn’t there a Tracy connection with the Vlahos name?”

I responded that yes, indeed, there was. A James Vlahos had been a partner with Gus Margaros in operating the West Side Market during the 1920s and ’30s and into the 1940s. Was he related to the author? Joan decided to find out.

In the index page at the front of the magazine was an email address for the article’s author. Joan emailed him a short note asking if his family had had any connection to Tracy, California.

Within hours, he replied that there was and that his grandfather, with the same first name, had operated a grocery store with Gus Margaros in Tracy.

A few days later, we received a more lengthy reply, this one from the younger James Vlahos’ father, John Vlahos, who lives in Kensington, just north of Berkeley.

“My son, Jamie (the author of the NY Times article) sent me a copy of your message to him.” he wrote. “Your message really brought back old memories.”

John reported that he was the third child of James and Helen Vlahos, immigrants from Greece who had settled in Tracy. John’s sisters, both still alive, are Marie Petris of Oakland and Betty Christian of El Cerrito.

I remember him as Johnny Vlahos, Betty’s kid brother. Betty had been in my brother’s class in elementary school, and he really had a crush on her.

The Vlahos family had lived on Highland Avenue, just east of Parker Avenue, while James Vlahos was partner in the West Side Market, which was across the alley from the Grand Theatre on Central Avenue and was Tracy’s largest food market before the chain stores moved in. After the market was sold in 1946, the Vlahos family moved from Tracy to Oakland.

“As youngest in the family, I sort of shared vicariously the friends of my sisters — Nick Margaros, Tom and Sam Matthews, and names like Tommy Albano, John Taylor, Taylor Reed…,” John recalled.

He reported that his son James, a freelance magazine writer, lives in El Cerrito with his wife and two kids. John has a daughter, Jennifer, a teacher living in Alameda, and a younger son, Jonathan, a doctor living in San Rafael. He closed his message by writing, “While I was only 10 years old when I left, Tracy still occupies a very important position in my mind and heart.”

Right away, Joan got on the phone to Nick Margaros, an old friend, and he shared remembrances of growing up with the Vlahos children. He said he was closest in age to the older daughter, Marie. Her husband, Nick Petris, was a state senator from Oakland.

“It was so long ago, but for me, too, this has stirred up some memories,” Nick said. “Our family maintained contact with the Vlahoses after they had gone to Oakland.”

Gone to Oakland, yes, but they took a lot of memories of Tracy with them.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email shm@tracypress.com.

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