SHERIDAN — Where do you get your food? The answer comes with surprising variety in Sheridan.
Walmart, Albertsons and Ridley’s Family Markets attract the bulk of customers by offering the widest selection of groceries. Smaller grocery stores stay in business because they carve out a niche for customers to purchase unique items that aren’t available elsewhere.
“We try to fill in the cracks where there is a market,” said Melissa Smith, co-owner of Golden Rule Grocers, which mainly sells non-genetically modified, organic and locally-sourced produce.
In Sheridan, the market certainly exists.
According to Statista, an online market research company, there were about 3,400 natural/gourmet stores in 2016 in the United States. That equates to about 1 store for every 94,000 people in the country. In Sheridan, there are three such stores — Golden Rule Grocers, Good Health Market and Health Nut & Wellness Center — equalling about 1 for every 6,000 people. Add in other local options like Sackett’s Market and Sheridan Meat Market, and the town seems to have an unusually high demand for non-chain grocery options.
Why is that? A common refrain mentioned the knowledgeable, personalized customer service offered by niche stores. Each store has less than 10 employees who directly interact with nearly everyone who walks through the front door.
“I think you just have a lot of customers around here who really want to know where their food comes from, and they also want a smaller, employee-based operation to go to,” said Keith Klement, co-owner of the Good Health Market, which specializes in organic produce, supplements and body care products. “They really care about quality, more so than necessarily the best price or quantity. It’s about, ‘Can I talk to the person that owns that business and really know about that product?’”
Smith said Sheridan is a forward-thinking town when it comes to organic food options. The smaller food stores, along with unique downtown shops, help differentiate Sheridan from other regional towns and attract tourists.
Customers can also build relationships with the store owners, who are more than willing to hear feedback.
“I try to guarantee everything I do, so if anybody’s unhappy, all they have to do is talk with me and I’ll make it right,” Sheridan Meat Market co-owner Jeff Morgareidge said.
Business appears to be going well. Golden Rule, Good Health and Sheridan Meat Market all moved into new, larger locations in the past 25 months.
The Good Health Market location change to South Sheridan Avenue in September 2016 has increased business because of the better location and reliable customer service. The custom services that Sheridan Meat Market offers have helped the store immensely since moving in December 2015 to its current location, a few storefronts down from Good Health Market. Golden Rule Grocers’ move to a prominent location on Coffeen Avenue in November 2016 helped attract new customers, as has the restaurant inside the store that serves sandwiches and other entrees.
While larger stores are open most hours of the day, seven days a week, the smaller stores serve customers for eight to 10 hours, five or six days each week. However, running a small business amounts to essentially an around-the-clock job, making a work-life balance nearly impossible.
Moreover, at the Sheridan Meat Market, Morgareidge sometimes has a hard time getting things done because every customer wants to talk to him, co-owner Erin Morgareidge said.
Klement said it is also a difficult balance at Good Health Market to have enough items available but not overstock the shelves.
The owners view the other stores as healthy competition and try to shop locally as much as possible to support each other. Their services overlap a bit, so owners will recommend customers to another store that may have what they want.
Competing stores carry with them cause for concern, however.
“Competition’s not bad, in itself,” Klement said. “It actually provides a place for a driving market, driving economy. At the same time I say that, competition sometimes is difficult because you’re always constantly wondering why sales decrease. You just try to provide good customer service and hopefully they come back.”
Jeff Morgareidge agreed.
“There’s no reason everybody can’t work together,” he said. “You do what you do, do it to the best of your ability and let the chips fall where they may.”
In Sheridan, the chips are falling off the shelves of niche stores into the hands of hungry, happy customers.