NEWLY UPDATED. Recently, the Daily Republic ran a story about a local businessman, Ned Roscoe, who faces a lengthy prison sentence following his conviction on 28 counts of bank fraud. Roscoe’s father, John, previously pled guilty to conspiracy to making false statements to Comerica Bank.
If those names sound familiar to you it’s because they’re the owners of the Shortstop/Food & Liquor/Cigarettes Cheaper! convenience store chain.
John Roscoe was known for printing his libertarian political views on the chain’s bags. He was libertarian before libertarianism was cool. These ‘bagatorials’ garnered coverage in the Wall Street Journal. In a foreshadowing of Roscoe’s boldness in speaking his mind, he was quoted in a November 1976 Time Magazine article explaining why he wasn’t voting in the presidential election: “I’m a three-time loser. In 1964 I voted for the peace candidate —Johnson—and got war. In ‘68 I voted for the law-and-order candidate—Nixon—and got crime. In ‘72 I voted for Nixon again, and we got Watergate. I’m not going to vote this time.”
In 1996, John Roscoe published a book featuring his views called “Bagatorials: A Book Full of Bags.” Roscoe explains why you shouldn’t vote and why you should smoke. You can find a used copy on Amazon.com for a penny. Not kidding.
John Roscoe drew headlines when he had a 7 ton replica of a brachiosaurus helicoptered in for his Dixon store.
He drew more positive headlines when the state took him and his chain to court for selling milk too cheaply. Roscoe won.
In 1984-85, I worked for the Customer Company, the Roscoe’s parent company, at the store my dad managed in Vallejo, Orvis’ Food & Liquor. Only once did I ever run into Ned Roscoe. He was in his mid-twenties back then. He breezed into the store and my dad told me who he was by way of introduction. I said hello and was extending my hand when he looked me up and down and just nodded.
So whenever I heard of Ned Roscoe after that, I never forgot that moment. It colored my perception of him. You never forget being left hanging on a handshake.
To work for the company one had to agree to be polygraphed at any time. One of my jobs was to drive employees down to the headquarters in Benicia to be polygraphed if ever the store started missing money. I wasn’t supposed to tell them why they were being summoned to headquarters so I just played dumb on the drive down.
Some of them were offended when they came back out to the car. “I can’t believe they had me taking a lie detector test. I would never steal.”
Fast forward to 2011 and it looks like the Roscoe’s are going to the pokey. I think back to those employees being polygraphed to make sure they weren’t stealing any of the Roscoe’s money, and then I think of the Roscoe’s committing bank fraud and it’s just… that’s rich.
UPDATE: I've been contacted by Mr. Ned Roscoe. He tells me the most likely reason he didn't shake my hand was a chronic medical issue he's dealt with. I take him at his word. Especially, given my own medical history, I'm certainly not going to doubt it. It was a one time encounter.
I don't delight in their misfortune. I give 'em props for the bagatorials. It takes nerve for a business to take a stand on an issue and risk the ire of the customers. But they did it. Launching successful cigarette stores while tobacco is being cracked down on, while being nonsmokers, tells you that their convictions were real.
It's too bad it ended up this way.