April 22, 1995
Perry says goodbye to Homeland this month and welcomes the new guys, Les Homer's Apple Market. It calls for a major adjustment by all of us as we get used to yet another new name and possibly a new way of doing business with one of our city's major food suppliers. I was just getting comfortable with the name "Homeland," after all those years of dealing with "Safeway," so it may take a while to say "Apple Market."
Homeland succeeded Safeway here a few years ago but the transition seemed fairly easy because most of the former employees stayed on and few cosmetic changes were made in our local store. Apparently there will be a lot of changes in this new transfer of ownership. All of this brings on a few thoughts about the history of Safeway in Perry.
I don't know when the grocery chain first came to Perry. My earliest recollection is from the early 1930s when Safeway was on the west side of the square in the old Globe building, a 25-foot front which now houses an antique store. The Piggly-Wiggly chain had a store of similar size and inventory on the south side of the square in the building where our city council now meets. Those two were the only chain groceries here at that time, but family-owned groceries were on all four sides of the square, on side streets and in neighborhoods. The chains and independents apparently co-existed pretty well, maybe because people stocked up a lot of canned food then and didn't leave the house to dine out as much as we do now. And "fast food" meant warming up leftovers from the Frigidaire, not a trip to McDonald's.
Our family bought most of our groceries from Charlie Huffman's IGA store on Seventh street, in the building now occupied by H&R Block. Mr. Huffman was a soft-spoken, white-haired gentleman and had perhaps the town's best sense of humor. He was among the first in Perry to offer grocery carts and help-yourself shopping. Until then housewives generally brought in their want list, handed it to a clerk and bided their time while each item was fetched. Mr. Huffman claimed that the help-yourself method enabled him to reduce the number of clerks in the store, and the savings were passed along to the customer.
Mother also depended on Hendren's Market, just a few doors south of Mr. Huffman's store, for fresh meat. J. B. Hendren and his sons, Bryan and Glen, ran the store and all three were expert meat cutters. Hendren's also had a pretty complete line of fresh vegetables and canned goods. Bryan ran a delivery truck twice a day, assisted by his polite grandson, who grew up to be Dr. Bryan Chrz, DDS. Huffman's and several other stores also made deliveries, all at no cost to the customer.
Despite our family loyalty to the Huffmans and the Hendrens, all personal friends of ours, we did sneak in and out of Safeway or Piggly-Wiggly on occasion to take advantage of some advertised bargains. Then one day in the early 1940s, Safeway bought out Piggly-Wiggly here. Instead of closing the store on the south side of the square, the chain kept it open along with the store on the west side, so we had two Safeway stores, each with its own manager and clerks.
Mr. Kersbergen was one of the managers at that time. He was a friendly businessman and his wife was active in the Parent-Teacher Association. Mr. Kersbergen had a stiff neck, perhaps from arthritis. He was unable to turn his head without also turning his entire upper body. The Kersbergens had a son, Bobby, who was in my class at Perry high school. He was quite a bit heavier than the rest of us but we always figured that was because he had unlimited access to all the food anyone could ever want.
Then in the early 1940s, Safeway decided to close the south side store and concentrate on just the west side location. I was a senior at PHS in 1941, right after our family had closed the City Drug Store on the north side of the square. I applied for a job at the west side store and was hired as a stock clerk and carry-out boy. After-growing up as a drug store-soda jerk, I was physically unprepared for the rigors of being a Safeway carry-out boy. Besides the usual brimful paper sacks of groceries, I was also expected to hoist 100-lb. bags of potatoes, sugar and/or flour and haul them on my shoulder to the customer's car. Parking was pretty limited on the square, so sometimes that meant a trip through the courthouse park to the east side of the square, or beyond. Yes, I remember it well.
Saturday nights were especially delightful. After closing the store at about 9 p.m., all of us carry-out boys were instructed to haul out canned goods and other foodstuff from storage shelves at the rear of the store and fill up the bins from front to back. That usually took us until about 11 p.m., which is when the big 18-wheel Safeway delivery truck would pull in at the rear of the store. Our mission then was to unload those huge vans and cart the contents into the store's storage area. By midnight we were through, physically and literally. We collected our humble earnings, 30 cents an hour, and headed home to fall into bed.
Ernie Edwards was manager of the west side store, and Herb Floyd was the meat cutter. Although my job description called only for carrying out customers' orders and stocking shelves, Mr. Floyd once asked me to tend the meat market while he went out for a quick bite to eat. I had never, ever been behind a meat counter until that moment. Now, this was before all cuts of meat were pre-packaged. Customers would select a side of beef and request ribs or other special cuts, weighing exactly so much. Quicker than I had feared, shoppers began lining up at the counter and requesting some exotic cuts that I had never heard of. Each order had to be wrapped in butcher paper, tied with a string and knotted, and a charge tab made out for the front-end checkout stand.
When Mr. Floyd returned after an absence of no more than 20 minutes (it seemed an eternity to me), he sized up the chaos in his department and quickly took charge. Once everything was back to normal, he admonished me: "Son, if you're ever in this situation again, just stop before you start to do anything. Then do it the exact opposite way you thought was right. That way, you'll be right every time." His advice has stayed with me and served me well all these years. Besides Mr. Edwards and Mr. Floyd, some of the Safeway fulltime employees then were Carl Baker, Dowell Bryant and Pete Peterson.
In due time Safeway built a much larger and more modern store just off the northwest corner of the square on Seventh street, a building which later housed Gordon Clark's Oklahoma Tire & Supply Store and most recently was occupied by the Salvation Army Thrift Store. J. A. (Spitz) Bluethman came here from Oklahoma City in February 1949 as manager of the Safeway store in that location and stayed until 1952, when he was transferred to Alva. Safeway then moved a native Noble countyan, Ed Feken, back to Perry as store manager. He previously had been with the company in Enid (1945-47) and Cherokee (1947-52). Spitz and his family were with Safeway in Alva and Lawton for a while, but moved back to Perry in 1956 when he bought an interest in Herschel Connell's IGA Grocery, near the elementary school.
The present Homeland store at Seventh and Fir was built by Safeway in 1976. Ed Feken supervised that move and retired from the company later that year. Following him as local Safeway manager was another native son, Bob Lowry, who has held that position since then, including the Homeland years.
Apple Market is a division of Price Mart, which operates stores throughout this area. Fred Feken, Ed’s son, has been with that company for several years and was the store manager for the firm in Tulsa. The Perry area has had a long and pleasant association with Safeway through the years, and more recently with Homeland. I’m sure we’ll get used to the new Apple Market name and family in no time. They are most welcome as new merchants and citizens of this community.