A Family Commitment
A Family Commitment

Proud of their Old Towne business’s heritage for the past 60 years, The Alvarez family stands in front of the Army-Navy Store. Shown here are family matriarch Connie Alvarez in the foreground (light blue blouse), surrounded by her children (left) Steve Alvarez, Pat Lueras, Jake Alvarez, Mike Alvarez (Orange Councilman), Irene Sakioka and Tony Alvarez, Jr.

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Army Navy Story

As the Army Navy Store celebrates 60 years in Old Towne this year, for the Alvarez family it’s more than a celebration of business—it’s a celebration of their family’s hard work. Opened by brothers Tony Sr. and Carlos Alvarez in 1955, the iconic shop located in the Plaza is today operated by Tony Sr.’s children, who remember the early days of the store fondly.

The Alvarez brothers’ interest in opening a business started after they both served in the military and then returned to work in a store similar to what they eventually decided to open. Tony Sr. and Carlos chose Orange as the ideal location for their business and opened the shop with the help of their wives. The store, which sells everything from military supplies to everyday clothes, became a second home to both families.

“When we opened the store, my son Michael was in a stroller,” says Connie, Tony Sr.’s wife. “All of the kids grew up in the store.”

The shop started as one small building on South Glassell St., and the kids were often enlisted to work. Tony Jr., Connie and Tony Sr.’s son, spent many summer days sweeping and putting gardening supplies and lawnmowers out in front of the store for customers to see.

“My uncle would give us a project for the day,” recalls Tony Jr. “I mostly remember folding Levi’s and cutting parachutes to make car covers. My aunt would take us for lunch in the Plaza, and then we’d watch a matinee at the movie theater. At the end of the day, our job was to bring everything into the shop.”

The store has always been a family affair. As a matter of fact, for many years, the brothers only hired friends and family members. “They wanted to hire people they could trust,” says Connie.

In 1969, the families bought the buildings on either side of the store, and in 1970, they hired a contractor to convert them into one building and expand the store. As the shop grew, the Alvarez families toughed it out through whatever came their way—such as losing business because of nearby military base closures and recessions. They soldiered on, continuing to solidify their relationship with the community.

“Our store ebbs and flows with whatever happens,” says Michael, Connie’s son and Tony Jr.’s brother. “We try to treat our customers like family. We still order items and deliver for free.”

In addition to the family’s commitment to taking a personal approach with customers, they’ve also used the Army-Navy Store as an opportunity to give back over the years, such as donating to various causes like the Lions Club, the Senior Center, local schools and churches, and for construction of the Orange Main Library. “We grew up giving back, and it’s important that our donations benefit Orange,” says Michael.

The store, which opened the same year as nearby Disneyland, owes some of its long-lasting success to sales booms that accompany military-themed movies, such as Top Gun. They had a rare opportunity to meet and host Tom Hanks in the store during the filming of That Thing You Do.

Today, as the store turns 60, the Alvarez family is carrying on Tony Sr. and Carlos’s legacy, with hopes for endurance. “We want to continue with a third generation,” says Connie.

Tony Jr. echoes the sentiment. “Hopefully we’ll be here another 60 years.”

Army Navy Store
131 South Glassell St, Orange CA 92866  /  714-639-7910

Article Published in the
Jul / Aug 15 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review
Written by Elana Katz photo by Mike Escobedo
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