Sunday afternoon a group of friends waited outside Vallerga’s Market in conspiratorial anticipation for what was about to happen between two employees who were working inside. They were all in on David Rangel’s planned surprise for assistant manager, Annie Uhl.
At 2 p.m., admitting that he was “so nervous,” Rangel walked away from the meat department, and then his well-wishing friends and family stepped inside the store to witness his marriage proposal to Uhl.
“Can I please get the attention of all customers and employees of Vallerga’s Market? I would like to share with you, on this beautiful day, inside this amazing store, a quick special announcement,” Rangel said over the store’s intercom.
About 30 people formed a circle around the couple toward the front of the store.
“Annie Uhl, I know we have had a hard time, we have had a good time, but we have never had bad times,” Rangel said.
“My 10 years with you have been amazing and I look forward to the many years to come. I know that at this point you are at an emotional time in your life and I just wanted to brighten your day a little bit by asking you, Annie Vanessa Lyn Uhl, will you marry me?”
Getting down on one knee, Rangel gave the ring to Uhl.
Happy tears, clapping and cheering broke out from everyone when an astonished Uhl said “yes.”
After someone shouted out, “What did she say, Dave?” Uhl loudly repeated “Yes.”
Shortly after that, hugs and congratulations engulfed the couple.
Among the cheering witnesses to the proposal were Mike and Chris Vallerga Burns and their daughter, Leigh Burns.
Vallerga Burns is the daughter of the market’s founder, Joe Vallerga, who died in 2012 at age 90.
The preceding days had been an emotional time for them and Vallerga employees.
On Thursday it had been announced that the store whose Napa roots go back 71 years would close at the end of this month.
“David called my mom (Chris Vallerga Burns) this morning to asked permission to do this,” said Leigh Burns.
“We’ve known Annie forever,” Burns said. “She started working here in high school. She is like family to us. So is David.”
“David knew how much working at Vallerga’s meant to Annie and how sad she was that the store was closing. He wanted it to end with happiness,” said Eddie Quintero, who will be Rangel’s best man at the wedding.
“A chapter of your life ceases and another begins,” Quintero added.
“I’m so happy for them. Everyone knows and loves Annie from Vallerga’s. They treat their employees like family,” said Quintero’s wife, Tracy Quintero, who once worked at Vallerga’s.
“Annie is welcome in my family. I love Annie. She is so wonderful,” said Rangel’s mother, Soledad Ramirez.
“He had been talking to us about it before. We knew how much this means to Annie. I’m happy she’ll be my sister-in-law, said Lorena Ramirez.
Friends and family soon left so that the couple could go back to work.
Late Sunday night after her workday ended, Uhl shared her thoughts and feelings about the day’s unexpected event in a phone interview.
“I didn’t see this coming at all. I’m still in shock and feeling excited and happy,” Uhl said. “I was crying and shaking – it was happy tears.”
“When I saw people I knew, I thought they were coming in because the store is closing this month. Lots of people have been coming in to say goodbye.”
Uhl said she was very pleased that her boss, Vallerga Burns, was a part of the surprise proposal at the store.
“I don’t think David could have done anything more perfectly than this,” Uhl said. “The way he did it brightened an otherwise gloomy week.”
Uhl said that the couple haven’t yet set the wedding date.
Before his surprise proposal to Uhl, Rangel, who occasionally works in the meat department at Vallerga’s and has another job, was making plans with family and friends for Sunday.
“I wanted to propose someplace special,” Rangel said on Saturday night. “I wanted to propose at the Oakland Coliseum in June when it would be our 10th anniversary, but the fact that Vallerga’s is closing … This store is such a big part of Annie’s life. I love it too.”
“She has been crying every night since hearing that Vallerga’s would close. I think this will mean the most to Annie since this is the end of the Vallerga’s saga,” Rangel said. “She has worked at Vallerga’s for 22 years and everyone there is like family to her.”
“She doesn’t know what she’ll do after it closes, but she has lots of opportunities,” Rangel added.
Rangel, who grew up in Napa, met Uhl at Redwood Middle School, then drifted away after high school. When the two accidentally “ran” into each other at the Red Hen Cantina 10 years ago, sparks flew, and they began dating. By then, each had two children from previous relationships and they were single again.
“She doesn’t think I want to get married,” Rangel said, with a little chuckle. “Friends are encouraging me to do it this way since Sunday will be my last day working at the store,” Rangel said.
“I’m trying to find someone to play ‘Despacito’ over the intercom so everyone in the store will hear it. It is Annie’s favorite song.”
Though the song somehow wasn’t heard during Rangel’s proposal, it was evident by the happy tears of the bride to be and the cheers from the crowd that he had brought joy into the store.
A video of the proposal has been posted on the Vallerga’s Market Facebook page and videos and photos are now on the Facebook pages of the couple’s friends.
“I am so happy for the two of you. I love you both so much. Saying bye to Vallerga’s with a bang,” Venesa Quintero, who took some photos of the proposal, wrote on her Facebook page.