Connie McMahan manages the Tampa Trail Store in downtown Tampa.
McMahan and her husband were living in a Chicago suburb when they decided to retire and move closer to family in the Wichita area. They searched online and found a country home north of Tampa, which they bought sight unseen.
“Tampa is one of the greatest communities around,” McMahan said. “We couldn’t have landed in a better location.”
They moved to their new home in 2010. They were planning to start a couple of small businesses when her husband became ill. He died last August.
McMahan became involved in Tampa’s Pride program soon after the couple moved to the community. In June 2012, the Pride committee sent her to a grocery store summit at Kansas State University in Manhattan to explore options for establishing such a store in downtown Tampa.
She learned about four ways to structure such an enterprise: a co-op, memberships, for-profit, and nonprofit.
After hearing from an attorney on the matter, the committee decided to make it a nonprofit enterprise. They issued stock and memberships at $100 a share. They also had a fundraiser with matching funds from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.
“The community came out like crazy,” McMahan said. “The money they raised bought the inventory and equipment needed to start the business, with some left over.”
The store opened in August 2012 with a limited supply of groceries. McMahan later developed a produce section that she designed. She took over management of the business in October. The variety of products offered continues to grow.
With the help of 14 community volunteers — Kathy Davis, Leo and Sue Yanda, Rita Brunner, Phyllis Branson, David Mueller, Michele Berens, Melissa Stuchlik, Dee and Tom Duggan, Julie Kerbs, and Amber Peterson — the store is open Monday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and every weekday evening from 4 to 7 p.m.
“This is not a convenience store,” McMahan said. “This is a full-fledged grocery store.”
She said at least 1,000 items always are in stock.
She spends at least one day a week in Salina buying groceries and other items for the store. Danny Williamson keeps the store supplied with meat from Krehbiel‘s Meats of McPherson. J&V Cackleberry Farm of Lincolnville delivers eggs. Jirak Brothers Produce provides fresh produce in season. Beverage and dairy distributors deliver products. The store also stocks Wiebe cheese and Granny Smith mustard. It supplies three vending machines around town.
A community bulletin board within the store helps customers keep up with what is happening in the area. The store also has a section where locals can sell consignment items. Community groups can apply to hold bake sales in front of or in the store, or to conduct garage sales out front.
Book-signing and cheese-tasting events have been held at the store.
McMahan keeps in touch with customers through email and a Tampa Trail Stop Facebook page. Every Monday, she sends out emails letting people know what fresh produce or specialty items are available.
When she started the Facebook page, she identified herself as the “Gopher.” Her posts became so popular that the store sponsored a gopher-naming contest. The winning name was Willy.
McMahan’s granddaughter, Abby August, who lives with her along with her parents and two siblings, helped her grandmother design a Willy the Trail Stop Gopher mascot.
McMahan said she fills special requests from customers and will stock a requested product if it proves to be popular.
A board of directors that meets once a month oversees the business.
“The store has always been self-sustaining,” McMahan said. “We hope to keep it that way and even grow some.”