Shoppers never know what bargains they might find when they walk into a Grocery Outlet store. And shoppers at the chain’s South First Street store might be surprised to learn that it was Evergreen State’s first Grocery Outlet store.
the 2109 S. First Street storeowned and operated by Dennis and Vicki Baker, will celebrate its 40th anniversary later this week with an 1980s party from noon to 4 p.m. FridayFebruary 11th.
Vicki’s parents, Dale and Molly Hannon, were recruited by Grocery Outlet to own and operate one of the company’s stores. In 1981, the family – including Vicki’s brother Bill Hannon – moved from Corvallis, Oregon to Orland, California to take over the Grocery Outlet store there.
Vicki said her family successfully owned and operated the Orland store until she discovered an available location in the Pacific Northwest, where she was eager to return. They moved to Yakima and renovated an old fruit warehouse at No. 4 Ranch Rite Road (just off South First Street and Nob Hill Boulevard).
During Dale and Molly Hannon’s years as owners, they added deli and frozen foods, health and beauty products, and a wide variety of household items to the existing core of grocery items.
In 1999, the Hannons retired and sold the store to Dennis and Vicki.
“After becoming owners, we added new departments, including fresh produce and dairy, and expanded beer and wine selections,” Vicki Baker said. “In 2003, we moved the store to its current location.
“We’ve added fresh meat, expanded products and added our fastest growing category, ‘NOSH’ – natural, organic, specialty and healthy products. Our new store was built from the ground up and it was then considered the flagship Grocery Outlet store,” she added.
The bakers discussed the joys and challenges of owning and operating a grocery store, mentoring employees who may be entering their first job, and their favorite foods and beverages while answering five questions from the Yakima Herald-Republic:
■ How far do you go with Grocery Outlet and with this store in particular?
Vicki: My parents started with Grocery Outlet in 1981, training on how to run a store. Early in our company’s history, they hosted “Ma and Pa” entrepreneurs who dreamed of owning their own business. They didn’t really have a process at the time for that, so they took us to a training store, when I was in ninth grade. They gave us basic, rudimentary instructions and we ran this store, a very small store.
From there, they found a location in Washington State – “you’ll be our first store in Washington State” – and they said to pick them up in Yakima. So we moved here in 1982, and on February 10, 1982, we opened the store.
When we came here, it was a whole new concept for the state and for the city. At that time, no one could save anyone money. So we really took on a role in the community that they had never seen before. My mom, if she was here – they’re in Arizona – would tell you how when they first opened, one of her favorite stories is when she was at the checkout, and a mom came in with a whole bunch children and said, “Before this store opened, I could only feed them once or twice a day. Now I can feed them three meals.
It immediately started a kind of sense of mission for us, feeling like our family was serving the community in this way. It wasn’t just a business.
That’s one of the ways we see our role in this valley, saving people money. Many other companies have since been invented and come to market, but that was one of our missions.
The second is something that is deeply rooted in my family, which is giving back to the community. In our situation, we got involved in a lot of things, with dog rescue, cat rescue, schools and children and just about anything you can think of.
The last thing we do is we’re often a first job for kids, for single moms who need a flexible schedule, for people who may have made mistakes in their past and are looking for a second luck. It’s the kind of stuff that other companies don’t do, and we feel like we’re playing a special role.
Dennis: We have 22 employees.
■ Grocery Outlet came to Yakima before Walmart, before Costco. What makes you different, what makes you different from other grocery stores?
Vicki: What our company does – we have buyers in the Bay Area who buy around the world. They are looking for opportunistic commodities, that is, an overproduction of articles. Overstocks, packaging changes, test markets, special flavors, novelties. My favorite example is something like when a new movie was coming out, and they put that new movie on a cereal box. Then the movie goes to DVD and they are left with 100,000 cases of Cheerios containing Shrek. And you sell them for 99 cents instead of 5 dollars.
We transport things quickly and it’s cheaper. That’s usually what we do. We also have a regular base of items, so we have milk, bread, eggs and vitamins – all that. But a lot of what you find here is this opportunistic merchandise, and that changes every day.
■ The COVID pandemic has been going on for almost two years. What impact does this have on the management of the grocery store?
Vicki: It was strange. From the start, we were hammered at the start. You remember the toilet paper panic of 2020. We’ve been through that too. Our shelves were decimated in about three or four days. Everyone’s market was disrupted during this time. We took the time to restock our shelves.
Dennis: We tried to recapture it. And then of course trying to keep everything clean and sanitized. We always try to keep our store fairly clean, but this has been a whole different level of cleaning. All disinfection guards at checkpoints, all surfaces.
And just having all the supplies around the store for customers – the masks, the sanitary wipes, the hand sanitizer, all that stuff.
Vicki: When the government came in with the extra $600 (in COVID relief money), it created several things. One was that a lot of people were buying online, and that was affecting the number of people coming in. We still had people filling their baskets, but it wasn’t like the frequent shopping we had before. They got used to buying more things online.
Dennis: The number of customers per day was down. It changed people’s routines, their buying habits.
We were quite lucky. We didn’t have too many (personnel) problems until recently with omicron. Since it happened, we’ve had more issues with people having to date it. We’re kind of lucky, really, that for the first year and a half, or year and three quarters, we didn’t have a lot of people who couldn’t work here because of (COVID).
■ What is your favorite thing about owning a grocery store?
Vicki: When you work in a grocery store, food is something… obviously everyone needs to eat. It appeals to all walks of life and you are with a whole range of people. I like to go out and visit clients. We have a wide variety of people in this store. You will see the Lexus in the parking lot and people walking here. All types of people – I like that. I think it helps us keep our finger on the pulse of the community.
Dennis: I would support that. I think my number 1 thing is interacting with customers, which is my favorite thing. Secondary would be employee mentoring. Trying to help them – as my wife said, we have a lot of newbies in this job, kids. I’m just trying to teach them what work is. Honestly, it has become our job. Not as many parents, unfortunately, they don’t teach their kids that stuff. It is our responsibility to teach some of them what a work ethic is.
Vicki: What’s nice about it is that over all these years we’ve seen a lot of nurses, pastors, future business owners who go on to do amazing things, have this as their first job . I like this.
■ What’s your favorite item in the store? If you were to come buy one item, what would it be?
Vicki: Mine is definitely cheese. We have the best gourmet cheeses by far, available for pennies on the dollar. A close second is what we call NOSH – Natural, Organic, Specialty, Wholesome Products. This is where, stuff that normally costs $10, you’re going to find it for 2 or 3 dollars. It’s the crazy “oh my god, call your friends” department.
Dennis: Beer and wine for me. Local beer and local wine are available here.