A relatively small Vallejo, California family business in a diminutive strip mall beat out more than 18,000 stores of all sizes to be named California's State Lottery Retailer of the Month for March.
A ceremony was held at Vallejo's Market Town Liquor & Deli on Tuesday.
The accomplishment is remarkable considering Market Town's size, said Lance De Anda, a lottery official. The store has generated $4 million in lottery sales and contributed $1.5 million to public education since going into business in 1995, officials said, and its lottery sales have more than doubled in the past eight years.
"These are not large, mass-merchandisers, and to produce the way they do is really just short of amazing," De Anda said.
Sandra Lane, California Lottery's chief of northern field operations, joined other lottery officials at Market Town on Tuesday to present owner Avtar Sidhu and his family with a $1,500 check and a plaque.
"This is quite an honor. We only name retailers who have high sales and provide extra services to the community," Lane said. The retailer of the year gets $5,000, a plaque and a gold-decorated Lottery ticket terminal, she added.
Sidhu, originally from Punjab, India, has lived in Vallejo since 1991. Since then, he's become involved in the Interfaith Council of Solano County, is past president of his Sikh temple, is a member of the ethics committee at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, Vallejo, and counsels terminally ill patients at that hospital. He also writes an occasional religion column for local newspapers, he said.
"It's nice. It's a great honor," said Sidhu, 62, of the store's accomplishment.
The sentiment is shared by his sons Bobby and Gary Sidhu, who work at the store.
"It gives us more incentive to work harder. It shows that hard work pays off," said Bobby Sidhu, 35.
Bobby Sidhu attributes the store's high lottery sales volume in part to good customer service. "We know a lot of our customers' families. We're like family here," he said.
That's how regular Market Town customer Maxine Benson of Vallejo feels about the store atmosphere. "I call (Avtar) Dad' because he's like a dad to everybody. He's just a sweet person," she said.
Regular customer and lottery player Deanna Hall of Vallejo said she buys most of her tickets at Sidhu's store. "I think it's great. Most of my tickets from here have been winners. And I like the people here. They know me, and they're fast," Hall said.
Asked to remark on the award, "Dad" Sidhu thanked everyone and "prayed to God to bless our community, and God bless America."
The only other Vallejo store to win the honor was DeLong's Union 76 last March, an official said.
Lottery officials said about 35 percent of lottery sales money goes to the state's public schools.
Vallejo City Unified School District spokeswoman Tish Busselle said the district receives about $122 per student from the lottery.
But since the late 1990s, California's governors have "borrowed" state money earmarked for schools to help balance the budget, she said. There had always been promises of repayment until recently, Busselle said, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the state couldn't afford to repay what it has borrowed from the schools over the years.
Money for Education
In 2002-2003, the California Lottery took in about $3 billion. Solano County schools received more than $10 million of that, including:
- Vallejo City Unified School District, more than $2 million.
- Benicia Unified School District, nearly $670,000.
- Solano Community College, almost $1.04 million.
In the 18 years that Lottery money has gone to schools, Solano County schools have received more than $154 million, including:
- Vallejo district schools, nearly $41 million.
- Benicia district schools, more than $10 million.
- Mare Island Technology Academy, $122,321.
- SCC - more than $13 million.