A recent Friday at 10:34 a.m.
George Duran, 28, offers an apple and caramel lollipop to a small customer. Since he was 4, Duran's entire world has revolved around the few blocks around Rhea's Deli & Market. As a kid, he would frequent the convenience store on 19th and Valencia streets, trying to sneak sweets from under the owner's nose - to little avail. Now he's graduated, with the title Corner Store George, or CSG to those in the know. "It's like an alter ego. I don't have to worry about being 'just George.' I can create this whole character that makes me comfortable around everyone," said Duran, who became manager at Rhea's five years ago. He started working at corner stores when he was 12, learning the ropes from veteran counter hawks who maintained peace largely through stern looks and wit. "You don't need to go to a fancy school to work at a liquor store. You just have to know how to be tough - not act tough - be tough," he said. Ironically, he said, it's now his job to keep an eye out for kids like him. He moves nonchalantly around the floor, running registers and straightening energy drinks in banks of buzzing refrigerators. He slips one-liners, Georgeisms, if you will, to repeat customers, like little thank-you notes for their loyalty. "Stay beautiful. It's an ugly world," he said to one lady headed to the park with a bottle of white in a brown paper bag. Usually things go smoothly under his watch, but occasionally he needs to shoo off unbalanced souls looking to scam the operation. Without a doubt, Duran's mouth is the most powerful tool in his arsenal, but he keeps an aluminum bat close at hand for backup. Duran said he might like to become an actor one day, but only if he could still work at the store. "I'm not leaving this," he said. "I love Rhea's."
To see a multimedia production of this piece, go to sfgate.com/cityexposed. If you have ideas for City Exposed, e-mail Mike Kepka at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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