the singing butcher
?This is one of the ties that bind in this neighborhood,? says store manager Jim Huberty. ?This store is wedded to the neighborhood, and the neighborhood decides whether or not the store exists.?
The 1,100-square-foot space, nicknamed ?the little market that could? by locals, has endured many changes in its 80-year history. In 1924, it first opened as the Universal Grocery and Randall Market Meats, part of the Universal grocery chain owned by Carl E. Hommel, a former dining car supervisor for the Ringling Brothers Circus train. After going through several incarnations—all as groceries—the market was bought by Joe Heggestad, who owned it from 1974 to 1995. Some people still call the store ?Joe?s.?
When Heggestad retired, the fate of the market became unclear, and the space remained vacant for some time. But in 1998, more than 1,000 neighbors banded together to save the store and create the co-op.
At the remodeling celebration
last spring (from left)
Diane Cieslewicz, board member
and event organizer Mary Ellen Volbrecht,
Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz,
Co-op Manager Jim Huberty
and Co-op Board President Mary Rouse
?People like the store because of how it feels when they walk in,? says Huberty. ?It?s very old-school.?
Space is tight at Regent, which for many stores could prove detrimental. Instead, the narrow aisles of tall shelves filled with neatly arranged products lend the store a cozy, homegrown feel. The produce section offers a surprising diversity of organic vegetables and produce. In the back of the store, a full-service deli—the one with singing butcher Ihde—offers a huge variety of meats, cheeses, sandwiches and comfort food.
More important, though, than Regent?s welcoming layout is its friendly approach toward customers, who are always warmly greeted when they come in, many by their first name. Because the store is small and member-owned, staff can more easily meet the needs of individual patrons. Many older members, for example, who have shopped at the store for years have come to depend on its delivery service. Once, says Huberty, an older customer wanted Ensure, a product the store doesn?t carry. So Huberty went to a pharmacy and got it himself, delivering it to the woman along with the rest of her groceries.
Staffer Barnaby Rintz
at the register
The co-op doesn?t advertise at all, but instead relies on word of mouth and community involvement to bring in business. Located on a busy street, the store pulls in a lot of foot traffic. But its main customer base is made up of more than 1,000 members, and Huberty says he couldn?t ask for better advertisers. The store is also involved in the neighborhood, taking part in events like the annual Fourth of July neighborhood party and Madison?s Food for Thought Festival, a culinary extravaganza that celebrates and raises awareness of locally produced food.
Produce Manager Peter Balistreri
restocking his section
O?rya Hyde-Keller is a Bethlehem, Pa.-based free-lance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 4/p. 66