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Veronique de Turenne

Ralphs: 19/7

It's an embarrassment of riches here in Malibu, what with a major grocery store (two, if the new Pavilions ever opens), an indie-ish market, and a high-end natural foods store. We're a city of just 12,500 - how many beer cases do we really need? Still, it's a bit of a shock to learn that starting today, our Ralphs won't stay open 24 hours any more. Not enough traffic and too much theft, the very nice manager said this morning. From now on, Ralphs will be closed between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.

It was 5 a.m. and I was buying dog food. I've been an early-hours customer many times over the years, making the cold, dark drive down a deserted PCH to fetch cough medicine, bottled water, ice cream, toilet paper and, in one memorable transaction when one of the dogs was really sick, Pepto Bismol and a turkey baster. (I had to explain it to the startled clerk then and I feel the need to explain again now: You use the turkey baster to suck up a dose of the Pepto and squirt the vile pink stuff into the dog's mouth.)

Late night at Ralphs can be a scene. Gangs of Pepperdine kids fill the aisles, posturing as much as shopping. Night owls and shut-ins work through their weekly lists. Stoners cram their carts with the sort of stuff usually found on a carnival midway. And one-item shoppers anxiously buying a thermometer or a bottle of baby aspirin reveal the crisis at home.

So despite millions of square feet of new development slated to take out a big chunk of our precious open space, despite all of the luxury stores pushing out decades-old mom'n'pops, Malibu has just managed to take a tiny step backwards. We roll up the sidewalks at 1 p.m. Seems we're still a small town after all.Ralph's at night

Next entry: Back to the future

More by Veronique de Turenne:
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Next story: Back to the future

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