• Last modified 3644 days ago (Aug. 27, 2009)


Goessel grocer keeps customers coming back

Staff writer

At a time when many small-town grocery stores are closing, Keith’s Foods of Goessel stays open with a seemingly contradictory combination of specialization and diversification.

Not every town is fortunate enough to keep a grocery store. Losing one can be hard on a community, Florence resident Cheryl Steward said of the loss of Wilbur’s Market, which closed in 2008.

“It hasn’t been easy,” she said. “We can’t hardly get a loaf of bread.”

It is especially frustrating to find she is missing an ingredient while cooking something. It is less convenient to go out of town.

Keith’s Foods’ specialty is its deli counter. Customers come from as far as Wichita for meat, especially Goessel country sausage, owner Keith Banman said.

Thursday morning, a couple from out-of-town stopped at the store to buy smoked pork chops. They started going to Keith’s Foods a couple of years ago on the recommendation of a friend.

Banman found another revenue source by adding ready-to-eat meals. The store sells pizza, and at various times offers sloppy joes, bratwurst, and hamburgers.

To diversify the business more, he added catering, which is particularly busy in North Newton. The farthest catering client was in Valley Center.

“It’s not just waiting for people to walk in and buy a gallon of milk,” Banman said.

But all that would not be enough to keep the store in business if it weren’t for local support, because Goessel is almost too close to Newton, he said.

Convenience is one of the greatest advantages a local grocery has, he said. Customers do not have to sit in traffic to get their groceries.

Small stores can do some things superstores might not, like deliver groceries to shut-ins and accommodate special orders, Banman said.

Good relationships with customers are another advantage local grocers have. Banman said he knows probably 90 percent of his customers.

Customer Eric Schrag likes being on a first-name basis with store employees. It is almost like Cheers, he said, referring to the 1980s TV show and theme song about a bar where “everybody knows your name.” Keith’s Foods is one of the best places to learn what is going on in Goessel, between conversations over morning coffee and fliers posted in the front window.

“I think it speaks toward the pride people have in our community,” Schrag said.

Finding suppliers can be difficult for small stores, Kansas Sampler Foundation Director Marci Penner said. Many wholesalers do not send a truck to a store ordering less than $10,000 of groceries per week.

It can be easy to blame customers for going out of town to buy groceries, but responsibility rests with a store to give customers a reason to shop locally, Penner said. Customers want to shop in clean stores with good selection and prices.

Florence resident Peggy Chappelle said she didn’t realize how good Florence had it until Wilbur’s Market closed.

“Now that it’s gone, it will be almost impossible to get it back,” she said.

Last modified Aug. 27, 2009