Hi! How are you?
Hi, How are you?
Is there a phrase that completely represents your life? For me, as a third generation grocer, “Hi, How are you,” pretty well foots the bill for mine.
So much can be tied up into that one simple phrase. It is what we greet you with when you first step through the door at our stores, Shelton’s Grocery in Waurika, Oklahoma, as well as Walters Hometown Grocery in Walters, Oklahoma. For most, this phrase may seem a pleasant nicety and the customer service you have grown to love from shopping in locally owned businesses. For me, its a way of life.
I have been in a grocery store since I can remember. My first memories of my Grampy (Glen Good) were in the aisles of Warehouse Foods in Temple, Oklahoma. My grandpa, lovingly coined "Grampy" by me, was always at work. Missing very few days (virtually zero) after coming to Warehouse Foods in the late 60's. I never thought much about why this is always where I went to visit my grandpa, but as I grew older I understood. You don’t spend much time away from the grocery business once you are in it. This is an industry that you’re married to, for better or some days for worse.
My Grampy had raised my Dad in the grocery business and he in turn went on to work in several grocery stores as well as open his own store in his early twenties. My parents purchased Shelton’s Grocery in Waurika, Oklahoma, when I was 8 years old. (Fun fact: my Grampy helped build Shelton’s, my great uncle worked there and my dad sacked groceries there as a young boy.) My Dad, Stan, was still employed by Goodyear; so for the first time since I was two, my Mom, Cherryl, went to work to learn the grocery business. I’m sure you could guess, but I was at work right along with her. It was her first experience working in a grocery store, and you could say that we learned the business together.
My ninth birthday was the very next month, and I spent it at the store just like I would spend Fourth of July and the rest of my summer vacation. That summer, I spent more hours at Shelton’s than many of the full-time employees did. Mom and I would be there from open to close. This is where I experienced my first introduction to “Hi, How are you”.
I took it upon myself to become the designated greeter in the store. I quickly made friends with not only our employees, but I began to make my own friendships with our customers. Little did I know, that first summer repeating this new catch phrase would have such an impact on my life. I loved being able to be close with my parents on a day-to-day basis, a well as my beloved Grampy, who came out of retirement to help my parents start their own grocery adventure.
As the years rolled on, “Hi, How are you,” changed what it meant for me. Instead of a general greeting, I found myself actually caring about asking. I was always eager to hear how my favorite customers were. Often feeling concerned when I knew that some of them were elderly and having a hard time, sad when they were going through struggles and excited when I had been away for a while at school and seeing them after a prolonged period of time. There were many times where it seemed like a loaded question. I can think of countless stories where I got more than I bargained for as a response.
As I got older, my time spent at the store changed. I went from roaming around Main Street Waurika chatting with all my friends (some very patient and kind local business owners that took pity on a bored little girl and entertained her with some conversation and attention) when I was bored, to actually working in the stores. As a teenager, I can remember thinking that the very last place on Earth I wanted to be was the grocery store, and I couldn’t wait to not have to be there. In high school, I got a job working in a beloved western store in Lawton, and I saw that as my way out. I soon followed my high school job with an exit to the University of Oklahoma, and dreamed of a job that would get me far away from small town Oklahoma.
During my time in college I would often come back to the stores during holiday times or summers when my parents needed the help, and I started to remember how much I loved the stores, how much I valued being able to work with my family, and just how much I missed the relationships I had formed with our employees and customers. Towards the end of my college career I started to make a major shift. Not many years beforehand, the grocery store was the last place I wanted to be but it had now become the only place I wanted to be.
Near the end of my college career, my parents started building our second grocery store, and I got to be a bigger part of the stores. I got to help build this store from the ground up. I helped with the design as well as hiring and training our first round of employees. From that point, I knew that the grocery business was where I belonged. I don’t know if its because it was in my blood so to speak, but it was definitely where I felt at home.
Fast forward ten years, and here I am today. I work at both of our stores and I couldn’t be happier. I now have my own son, and I love being able to bring him to work with me. This summer he turned eight years old, and some things feel like they have come full circle. I get to watch my son, Drew, experience the same childhood that I did. He loves roaming the store and chatting with our customers and pestering our employees. He talks to everyone, even noticing and complimenting our vendors on a new haircut or a shirt he likes. He can be routinely found talking sports with our Coca Cola merchandiser, or chatting up our Frito Lay guy.
I value being able to work with my parents (even though working with family takes a special kind of love and patience some days on all sides), and watching my son get to be at work with them as well. The thing I love most though is getting to raise my child in a community where he gets to form these relationships. I am a huge advocate for the beauty of small town life and communities. I think its a beautiful relationship to know your neighbors in a way that shopping in a big box chain doesn’t allow.
I have often toyed with the idea of writing a blog over the years but I didn’t quite know if what I had to share was worthwhile. The older I get, the more I see the need to share these values and experiences. The grocery industry for me exudes a feeling of familiarity. We have all heard how a dinner table or a good meal can form bonds between friends, families and communities. I see the grocery industry as one big dinner table; one that we crowd around and greet each other and ask, “how are you."
I hope that you will come on this journey with me as we build a community centered around small town values and service. I can’t wait to get to know you!