Earlier this week I attended a conference held by the good people of the Rural Grocery Initiative. It’s called the Rural Grocery Summit. Seriously folks – did you even know that such a thing existed? I know, right?!? After
lurking researching their website for the last year or so, I decided to take a breath and just call them. I felt like maybe we should be in touch. (for those of you who don’t know this – I’m slightly terrified of talking on the phone. I do it all the time, but sometimes I really have to emotionally prep myself for it. )
Anyway – we chatted, they scoped out The Butter Churn online and next thing I know I’m going to be presenting at the conference! <SQUEEEEEL!> I public speak all the time and I love talking about The Butter Churn. Talk about a WIN! (and yes, I realize what a weirdo I am that I public speak but have a fear of the telephone. What can I say?)
The conference started Monday morning. First. I can’t find it. And I’m staying IN the hotel where it’s at. As I’m waiting at the front lobby to get some direction I see a man in a trucker hat and blue jeans and I know he and his wife are my people. We figure out where we are going and chitchat along the way. They own a small grocery and they’ve had it a bunch of years. They said the first few years were tough and right after they bought it, they originally thought “OMG. WHAT HAVE WE DONE.” I loved them immediately.
We part ways in the mix of finding a table, and I try and look cool like a grown up and get some coffee and promptly pour about 2 cups of half & half in my cup because the spout goes crazy and I start to sweat while casually now sucking down half&half so no one notices that anything is amiss. I totally got this.
And then I notice the fried egg sandwiches for breakfast. And I know then, that my Pops is with me. He died way before the idea of The Butter Churn even skirted across my brain, but through this whole process I’ve had glimpses of him along the way. The first time was at the Village Trustee meeting where I pitched my idea. And then of course imagining him in my kitchen sitting on a stool yelling at people to close the door while making… Fried Eggs. I took a deep breath and found a table.
And met the greatest people ever. Loren and Regena Lance. They have a store in Bronson, KS – town of…. 28 people. I immediately said “oh! We have town like that in Illinois. It’s called Good Hope. Except when we were teenagers we called it No Hope. Because. Well. We’re assholes.” (my poor mom. I know she’s reading this RIGHT.NOW. and just shaking her head)
Turns out, that at that VERY moment – Loren and Regena decided I was a firecracker – and worth getting to know. Which is good. Because they are good people and I can’t wait to take a road trip and see their store – which is housed in a building that is chock full of history, and Loren is a musician who blocks off a section of the street once a month to provide a party for the citizens. Oh and you know what – they haven’t done this all of their lives. In fact – they didn’t start in the grocery business. But that’s where they are now.
And then I look around the room – and I see a couple wearing matching red shirts that have their store name on them. I am immediately jealous and wish I was wearing my Butter Churn teeshirt and I admire their matchy-matchy. To my good fortune I spend some quality time them too – Brent and Bonita Bradley of Eagle Grocery in Norwich, KS. Dang but they had a good story too! They haven’t owned their store for very long either – and I realize I’m sensing a theme.
And I look around again – and I realize I can tell the owners of the stores from all the other people in the room. Because the actual store owners look like my people. Blue Jeans. Trucker Hats. Shirts tucked in with a good leather belt. And I know that I’m home even though I’m in a fancy hotel in Kansas.
Anyway – I end up presenting. I probably talk too fast, but I smile a lot. And I don’t mince words. I showed pictures of the store and talked about the conception of the store and how we built a business model based on research, looking at failure rates of other small town stores, and based on the knowledge that apparently everyone has about the importance and value of community and the small town grocer.
And I talked about what we have learned in the last 11 months. (now that has to be a different blog because – this is already too long of a post… !)
And I realize I cannot wait for July to be back home.