Former employees and loyal customers of Kroger in Quincy gathered Tuesday for a customer appreciation day at the soon-to-be-closed grocery store.
Employee Barbara Wilson struggled to hold back tears as she reminisced on her time at the store, which will close on April 11 after nearly 34 years.
“This is our thank you to our customers because this store is like a family grocery store and the customers are heartbroken,” Wilson said. “I’ve been a customer for 30-some years, ever since it opened.”
Wilson described the store as a sort of “watering hole” for the community, where people see neighbors, run into friends and the occasional turnpike traveler stops by. She said the hard-working and friendly staff has helped the store become a community staple.
“People love this store,” Wilson said. “It isn’t too big, it isn’t too small. This has always been well-maintained for the most part. It’s a fantastic location.”
Yet the store, which opened on June 15, 1980, will cease to exist in about two weeks.
Charlie Petry, 64, of Belle, worked at Kroger from Sept. 1, 1966, to May 18, 2009 — “42 years, 8 months, 18 days,” he quipped. What was first a job to help Petry pay his way through college turned into his career.
“You get to know a lot of customers and you consider them friends more than somebody who just comes here to spend their money,” Petry said. “That’s what I miss most by not working: the people I got to know over the years.”
Petry also worked at the former Kroger location in Belle, which is now owned by Walker Machinery. The much-smaller Belle Kroger closed in 1980 and was replaced by the Quincy Kroger, which was built on the site of the former Times Past restaurant.
No new store will replace the Quincy store, though, and Wilson said 20 full-time and 32 part-time employees will be displaced. Because Kroger employees are unionized, they will have the option of being relocated to other stores.
Roy Petry worked at the Belle Kroger from 1957 to 1964, but has continued shopping at Kroger since then. He said the news of the closure came as a “big shock” to the community,
“I want to cry even though I don’t work here,” Roy Petry said. “These guys, I come in here two or three times a week and talk to them. They’re always friendly, and I’m going to miss them because they’re going to be scattered all over everywhere. I can go to Kanawha City, but why should I have to drive to Kanawha City when I’ve got Belle?”
Roy said there has always been plenty of customers in the store, but he and other former employees think the store’s lack of a pharmacy may have doomed it. Several employees thought it wasn’t allowed to add a pharmacy because of its lease agreement. A Rite-Aid pharmacy is located in leased space next to Kroger in the Quincy Center.
Randy Titta, 67, of Belle, worked at the Quincy Kroger from its opening until April 2006. He started at the Mullens Kroger in 1962 — he recalled the store had wooden floors, his wage was $1.54 an hour and employees helped carry and cart groceries to the homes of nearby customers for tips. Titta transferred to the Belle Kroger in 1967 and moved to Quincy in 1980.
He said the Kroger store will be “tremendously” missed because Kroger has been a part of the community for so long.
“It’s just been such a staple in the community for so many years,” Titta said. “It’s just always been where people in the local community shopped.”
Titta said he shopped at the store because of its close proximity to Belle, but that he would shop at the Kanawha City Kroger once the Quincy store closes.
“It will be missed, particularly by a lot of the seniors,” Titta said. “It’s convenient for them, and that’s sad. They don’t necessarily want to shop Wal-Mart, but some of them may have to just because of time and distance.”
The same family atmosphere that had made the store unique was evident Tuesday as generations of employees mingled with past and present coworkers and friends in what Wilson called “one last hurrah.”
“I love shopping at Kroger because that’s where I’ve shopped since I worked here in ’57,” Roy Petry said. “These are the most friendly people, the staff here are the most friendly people, and I just feel like family. I don’t understand Kroger closing this.”
Wilson said the store would be running on shortened hours starting next week until its closure. Many items are discounted as the shelves clear out.
On April 12, residents will have one less place to buy groceries in the Charleston area, but if you ask any of the former employees gathered for the store’s goodbye party Tuesday, they’ll tell you Quincy is losing much more than just a store.
“I think if you talk to a lot of customers, they feel like they made a lot of friends here,” Charlie Petry said. “It’s just kind of a home for them to come to to do their shopping.”
Contact writer Marcus Constantino at 304-348-1796 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.twitter.com/amtino.