Ruiz Family: Jeffrey Ruiz and mother Matilda Ruiz remain enthusiastic about Bill’s Liquor, named for family patriarch William Ruiz, now in its 60th year of operation. Photo by Thomas Leffler


While pursuing the latest in wine and spirits, Santa Monica residents have taken part in one of the city’s strongest family legacies.

While pursuing the latest in wine and spirits, Santa Monica residents have taken part in one of the city’s strongest family legacies.

This year marks the 60th for Bill’s Liquor store on the corner of Lincoln Boulevard and Pacific Street, or as current owner Jeffrey Ruiz puts it, “where the pines meet the palms.” The Ruiz family continues to be proud of the location, which served as a self-starter for Jeffrey’s father, William Stanley Ruiz.

William, or the beloved Bill in the store’s name, passed away in September of 1981, leaving the business to Jeffrey, siblings William and Maria, and wife Matilda. He purchased the store in 1963 from Walter Kulgene after long discussions with Matilda.

“(We) thought about it a long time, because, oh gosh, it’s kind of dangerous working there,” Matilda said. “We did think about it. We finally said yes, that we would buy it … (from) the fact that you’d have your own business.”

Taking chances in life was nothing new to Ruiz at that point. Born in Moore Park, California, in 1924, he became a member of the United States Naval Forces after his 17th birthday. Following naval training in San Diego, Ruiz was assigned to the “Pacific Theater” of World War II, eventually earning a Purple Heart Medal when he was wounded defending Marines he transported in the Gilbert Islands.

When Matilda met the young Ruiz, she immediately commended his accomplishments.

“He was sitting on the porch and nobody was home … my sister and I saw him, lonely sailor over there … we went over there and met him, he started telling us stories about his ship (that) had already been torpedoed, he had been wounded a little bit, we were really impressed with all the stories he was saying.”

After marrying, the couple both worked hard in the Santa Monica area, with Bill using his love of self-teaching to provide gardening expertise to Sears customers in the city.

Purchasing the wine and spirits location while still at Sears, Ruiz translated his work ethic to the growing business, while displaying compassion for his new customers.

“My dad was real helpful with the people who lived in the neighborhood,” Jeffrey said. “If they didn’t have money for milk and bread, my dad would (give that). He’d give the shirt off his back for somebody, he hardly ever said no.”

Jeffrey started working with his father at 13 years of age during a tumultuous period in Los Angeles history, as the Watts Rebellion caused a week of unrest and tragedy in August 1965.

“Every place was closed except ours,” Jeffrey said. “We put a little sign ‘Chicano-owned’ so nobody would mess with us … they had buses right on Pico and Lincoln so nobody would come and riot on the beaches. It was crazy times back then.”

The wild ride also had many positives, with the top celebrities of the time period stopping in to buy from Bill, including Frank Sinatra and “The Beverly Hillbillies’’ star Buddy Ebsen. Ruiz also gained popularity from opening in the evenings after elections, coining the phrase “if your vote should be the loser, by 8 p.m., you’ll be the boozer.”

Bill’s love for the business rubbed off on the entire family, including Matilda, who still does accounting for the store at 95 years of age. For Matilda, there was “no other way” to run the business except for within the family, with the constant of the Ruiz clan making the years “fly by.”

Now Jeffrey carries on his father’s legacy, his penchant for great liquor sales and his immense hospitality.

“He was a loving guy, he wanted everyone to get along, do the right thing,” he said. “It made me happy that he was self-employed, (and) we just kind of grew on that.”

Email Thomas @

Thomas Leffler has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism from Penn State University and has been in the industry since 2015. Prior to working at SMDP, he was a writer for AccuWeather and managed...