Friday, December 23, 2011

“Christmas at Kresse’s”


c. 2011 Rod Ice
All rights reserved
(12-11)



Note to Readers: Each holiday season seems to spotlight a different Christmas memory for this writer. Two things happened during the year that made what follows here inevitable. First - I discovered a group called ‘Chardon Kresse’s Survivors’ on the social networking site facebook. It reminded me that working at the supermarket was an experience with lasting value. Second - I was contacted by a former co-worker from the store, Wayne Goebelt, who said he had been reading my columns in the Maple Leaf. Though I had not seen him in twenty years, we remained connected through this newspaper. I was humbled by his message.

Kresse’s Bi-Rite in Chardon was the sort of small-town grocery store that has all but disappeared from northeastern Ohio. This local business operated in what had once been an A & P location, and carried some leftover signage and fixtures from that company. The market offered butcher-shop meats, prepared on-site by traditional methods. It also provided fresh produce products that were hand-selected and trucked to Geauga County by our own driver. And bakery delights made from scratch by a talented crew. All of this was delivered in an atmosphere of old-fashioned, face-to-face customer service. In modern terms, such a store would be deemed as upscale, and out of the industry mainstream. Yet twenty years ago, these qualities were considered the norm for patrons on Water Street.

The business was owned by Frank Tainer, a local entrepreneur who also operated the Tanglewood Bi-Rite location. His focus was clear and unapologetic – to provide complete customer satisfaction. Excuses were unacceptable.

The store was supervised by a team of retail veterans. Store Manager Bob Herron had grown up in Pennsylvania, and learned his craft while rising through the ranks. Assistant Manager Mike Kelly had worked for A & P, as did Relief Manager John Raby.
I joined the crew in April of 1986, after working for American Seaway Foods, and Fisher’s Big Wheel. My knowledge of retailing remained undeniably limited.

But school was about to begin.

Kresse’s offered the kind of retail education that I could never have discovered in a classroom setting. I was able to work in close quarters with talented people from Fazio’s, Kroger, Pick-n-Pay, and many other Cleveland-area supermarket chains. This on-the-salesfloor interaction would provide the foundation for my own retail career, in years to come.

For this, I owe Mr. Tainer a lasting debt of gratitude. One which I can never repay.

Customers at Kresse’s often spoke about raising their children, while shopping at the store. Indeed, generations of families passed through our automatic doors. Trust and kinship were important. They kept coming back not just to find value, but to catch up with friends, and get advice for their dinner table.

Christmas of 1991 found us celebrating the holiday rush with typical enthusiasm. The store was nearly bursting with seasonal goodies. Every register was open, and a bagger stood ready to serve, at the end of each lane. Clerks were busy, everywhere. The shelves were full. Decorations dangled and spun. Genuine holiday cheer was in abundance. We worked frantically, like a re-assigned bunch of Santa’s elves.
The parcel-pickup drive, in front of our store, witnessed an endless stream of automobiles. Orders were loaded carefully, and glad tidings were repeated.

Christmas Eve brought all of this to a fever pitch. It was as if the entire place had become a community center. Last-minute purchases made our registers ring. We ran to find empty carts for waiting customers. And called out greetings across aisles of people.

Everyone felt blessed to be part of the team. It was our mission to serve, while celebrating with neighbors and friends.

We glad to be there. It was more than a job. In a real sense, it felt like home.
No one could have imagined that in only a few months, the store would close.

Postscript: Kresse’s Bi-Rite went out of business in March of 1992. The building at 425 Water Street in Chardon is currently occupied by a MARC’S location.

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