Walk into Galco’s and take a step back in time. Piles of boxes, bearing names both recognizable and strangely obscure, are stacked, one upon the other, filled with bubbly liquid. Behind the boxes, aisle after aisle spread out before you—with every soda imaginable. Yet, John Nese, owner of Galco’s Soda Pop Stop, does not have a favorite. And how could he, with so many choices?
“The truth is, 100 years ago, it was not uncommon to have a entire store dedicated to selling one thing and selling it well,” explains John Nese. “Back then, shelf space was not hogged by one or two soda brands.”
You won’t find any of those big name soda brands at Galco’s. Nor will you find a single soda can. Galco’s sells over 500 different flavored sodas from small, family run businesses—all in glass bottles.
“People often tell me that they are overwhelmed when they walk into the store for the first time. I smile and tell them that they finally have choices.”
Soda pop aficionados, as well as the curious and intrigued, will find choices from overseas, like Bundaberg soda from Australia that’s made with real fruit, or the best banana soda Neese has ever tasted, from Honduras. But his emphasis is to support domestic businesses; Galco’s carries sodas from right down the street, Highland Park’s Own. In 2011, they unveiled their White Rose Cream Soda, in homage to the White Rose Springs Water Company that was bottled on Figueroa Street. “With this soda, we are supporting local, small businesses,” Nese says.
Initially, this location was an Italian grocery store, famous for their “Blockbuster” Sandwiches, which are still sold at Galco’s today. John Nese’s father sold newspapers in front of the store and was eventually asked to become a partner. As a young boy, Nese loved going to work with his father, and he eventually took over the store. Little by little, he turned the place into its current form—a soda pop specialty store, which it has remained since 1987.
“Here, we have everything you don’t expect to find,” says Nese. That statement covers more than the hundreds of types of sodas—and beer. Also available, and all handpicked by Nese, are different types of candies from all over the country, and toys from John Nese’s era—including, but not limited to, his favorite: wooden make-it-yourself model airplanes.
The nights when Nese was allowed to buy a soda pop and rent a movie were, he says, “the best nights of his life.” When he was 8 years old, Nese and his family went to Happy Camp, situated in “The Heart of the Klamath,” right below the border of Oregon. While vacationing, Nese saw a naturally carbonated spring. He remembers thinking, “If I could get this piped to my school, I could add different syrups, and we could drink soda instead of water.” And so John Nese’s passion for sweet, bubbly liquid was officially triggered.
Recently, Nese began making new plans—a Soda Creation Station, where customers would have the ability to mix together different syrups, add carbonation strength, then mix and cap their own 12 ounce bottle of soda. With many 100% cane sugar syrups available, the flavors won’t disappoint—Toasted Marshmallow, Pumpkin Pie, Chipotle Pineapple, and Violet are some of the more creative flavors, just to name a few.
Nese’s Soda Creation Station will be unveiled at Galco’s Summer Soda Tasting this weekend, on Sunday, July 28th. Also, Galco’s will reveal the newest White Rose line of soda pop: cherry. Kids and adults may taste—and judge—samples such as Texas’ Hippo sodas, Brownie Root Beer, Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer, and MacFuddy Pepper Elixir.
The crowds will be treated to the sounds of Don Preston and Bunk Gardner from the Mothers of Invention (Frank Zappa), 15-year-old Genesee Hall, Fly By Night Blues Band lead by Greger Walnum, and The Mele ‘Ohana Ukulele Group.
Galco’s Summer Soda Tasting event is a benefit for the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition, and all profits will go towards reopening the Southwest Museum and Casa de Adobe as fully functioning museums.
We ask John Nese what soda means to him. Without pause, he says, “A smile,” as the corners of his own mouth curve upwards.
Galco’s 3rd Annual Summer Soda Tasting
Sunday, July 28th, 5-8 p.m.
Galco’s Soda Pop Stop, 5702 York Boulevard, 90042
Tickets: advance, $12; day of event, $15; for children 3-11, $5
For complete info, visit friendsofthesouthwestmuseum.com or call 323.255.7115
Copyright © All photos by Arielle Rawlings
Arielle lives in the beautiful mountains of Sun Valley, Idaho, and is a rising senior at the Community School. She came to California over the summer to live with her grandma in Altadena, to take a writing class at Polytechnic High School, and to intern for Hometown Pasadena so she could explore her budding interest in journalism and nonfiction writing.
She has a love of learning and an interest in exploring all subjects, but is specifically attracted to writing, math, and science. She loves dance (ballet, modern, lyrical, jazz, and hip hop) and has been dancing since she was three years old. She recently was Belle in the Sun Valley Ballet School’s production of Beauty and the Beast. She spent the first semester of her junior year studying and traveling in Israel. Now she is looking towards a new adventure—the college application process, touring schools all over the country, and reflecting on her path ahead.