Juan Johnny Torres of Coachella’s Lopes Hardware & Plumbing, dies at 82

Juan “Johnny” Torres started sweeping floors at Lopes Plumbing & Hardware in Coachella in the early 1950s, when he was just 12. Vergilio Lopes, the Portuguese immigrant who founded the shop in 1948, was notoriously hard to win, but Torres managed to get his foot in the door.

“I don’t think he got paid,” said Torres’ daughter, Teresa Torres-Arrieta. “He just loved being there. He wasn’t officially hired until he was in high school. I think he was 15.”

Torres knew little at the time, but sweeping the floor at the store would eventually lead him to his life’s work as the owner of the company on 1604 6th St. — helping to make him a fixture in the Coachella community for decades. .

“The thing about Mr. Torres is that he was someone who cared deeply about Coachella. He always attended meetings, he always knew residents’ names. He was helpful, kind and humble,” said Mayor Steven Hernandez.

Torres died on May 11 at the age of 82. His family plans to honor his life Saturday with a party at Veteran’s Park.

Torres was born in Indio on September 4, 1938. He attended Palm View Elementary and graduated from Coachella Valley High School. He married Leonides Sanchez in 1961. Shortly afterwards, he was drafted into the army during the Berlin crisis that eventually led to the building of the Berlin Wall.

“He always mentioned Checkpoint Charlie, where you start to see East Berlin and West Berlin, where they put the wall down,” Torres-Arrieta said. He was a gunner, she added, because he had experience shooting, because “here in the valley, hunting was a big thing in those days.”

After two years in the military, Torres returned to Coachella and to the hardware store. He and his wife had a son, Juan Torres Jr., and then Teresa was born.

‘He was actually a teacher’

When Lopes became ill in 1975, he sold the store to Torres. Customers liked him because of his patience. Not only did he sell hardware and plumbing products, but he showed a lot of how to install them and may have prevented many accidents, Teresa Torres-Arrieta said.

“People like to make shortcuts, like electrical shortcuts, and he would try to explain, ‘You can’t use your power that way. You can’t use those pipes for gas pipes, you’re blowing up your house.’ ‘ He was actually a teacher and he liked that,” she said.

Many Coachella Valley residents recalled Torres helping them with DIY projects for their homes when Hernandez, the mayor, announced on Facebook that he was dying.

“I went to Lopes Hardware as a child! I was there every week to get garden supplies with my parents for my father’s side job. He was always nice and gave me Coke from the machine. What a huge loss,” wrote one person.

Another said: “May he rest in peace, always helpful when he walks into his shop. He made copies of my current keys.”

A third simply wrote: “He was Coachella.”

‘It wasn’t about money’

As Torres got older, the hardware store became a family business. Today, Teresa Torres-Arrieta’s husband, Martin Arrieta, manages the store. Torres-Arrieta said she and her daughters and younger relatives helped out at the store.

“He was very happy because he felt like he was passing it on. Sometimes we were dad ‘everywhere’ (everywhere), while some of us were cleaning or trying to start a Facebook page, another learning the business. I’d say, ‘Dad, see, don’t you like us all here? Teamwork.'”

Torres also owned the business in addition to hardware store, DeLuca’s Clothing, which Torres-Arrieta said is more profitable. For that reason, she sometimes suggested her father close or sell the hardware store, but for Torres, “It wasn’t about money. It was just about being part of the community,” she said.

Although Torres was rooted in Coachella, traveling was also important to him and he loved hitting the road, especially in his 1957 Pontiac, which he drove to his death, Torres-Arrieta said.

“Before my mother’s death, they traveled by car to 23 states in two summers. Later, they traveled with friends to many places in Mexico, to see my mother’s family. They also toured Russia. He returned to Germany and visited the sights he had seen from 1961 to 1963,” she said.

After 45 years of marriage, Sanchez died of a heart attack. Their son died when he was just 24, leaving father and daughter alone. “We were the last, together,” said Torres-Arrieta.

I’m going with Johnny’

While Torres was best known for Lopes Plumbing & Hardware, he was also involved in church organizations and several city committees, including one that met to bring the Coachella library on 6th Street to life. He was a member of the Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce. In 2016, he was part of CV Strategies’ “Hometown Heroes” marketing campaign for the city of Coachella.

Long before he became mayor, Hernandez said he got to know Torres growing up and going to Lopes Hardware with his father.

Later in life, he said, “For me, as mayor, he was a very positive and steady force. I’d pitch an idea to him and he’d tell me if it sounded right. He’d say, ‘I think you could be, what is good (son)’.”

Hernandez wasn’t the only Coachella Valley politician to watch Torres grow up.

Torres-Arrieta noted that her father enjoyed following the work of U.S. Representative Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, a Coachella physician.

“Dr. Ruiz was his favorite thing. During COVID, he said, ‘Did you hear what Dr. Ruiz said? Did you tune in to Dr. Ruiz?'” she said.

Still, Torres didn’t put up any political posters in the store, “because he didn’t want to show favoritism in his business,” Torres-Arrieta said. “We will still not put political posters in the window.”

However, Lopes Plumbing & Hardware has hung up symbols and memories to remember Torres.

There is a black bow on the door. And there’s a picture of Torres by the window in front of the store, where he’d be standing outside taking a smoke break and chatting or at least waving to passersby.

A photo of him from his army days is displayed on banners atop city poles along 6th Street. Torres’ family said the city had put up the banners about a week after his death.

“To their families people said, ‘I’m going with Johnny’ (I’m going with Johnny), not, ‘I’m going to the hardware store,’” Torres-Arrieta described. She said that people don’t just shop for hardware items, but also opened up to her father about everything.

Torres died in his sleep, “very peacefully,” according to Torres-Arrieta. She said he struggled with “many minor ailments,” including orthopedic and kidney problems, heart disease and low blood pressure. The family did not request an autopsy, so they could not say for sure the cause of death.

Celebration of life planned

The celebration of life for Torres at Veteran’s Park on Saturday begins at 6:30 PM and ends at 8:00 PM. The family encourages people to attend and “share or hear about Mr. Juan R. Torres.”

Torres’ wake and vigil will be held at Shepherd of the Valley United Methodist Church in Indio on June 21, from 4:30 PM to 8:00 PM. There will be a separate mass at Our Lady of Soledad Catholic Church in Coachella on June 22 at 9:00 a.m.

Torres is survived by his daughter, son-in-law, two granddaughters, Audreyana and Annika Arrieta, and other extended family.

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Eliana Perez covers the eastern Coachella Valley, including the cities of Coachella and Indio. Reach her at eliana.perez@desertsun.com.

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