Stewart’s Food Store to celebrate 50-yr legacy

Stewart’s Food Store to celebrate 50-yr legacy

The Olney Planning and Zoning Board meets on Feb. 12 at 5 p.m. at City Council chambers to decide whether to rezone land on State Highway 79 to make way for a big box store, possibly a grocery store with produce to compete with family- owned Stewart’s Food Store, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year.

Harold Stewart took over the Oak Street Grocery in 1975, and outcompeted a half-dozen other independent stores and his legacy now stands as the only full-service grocery store within 25 miles of Olney.

The city planning and zoning board will consider whether to rezone three lots owned by County Commissioner Stacey Rogers for retail use at the Feb. 12 meeting..

Olney Economic Development Corporation executive director Tom Parker said a development company had made inquiries “as to locations for new retail businesses” including “a retailer that may include groceries.”

Robert Stewart, who now runs the store with his brother Danny, said four generations of Stewarts have worked at the store.

“My Grandpa, Ab Stewart, came to work for my dad in the store after retiring from working on the Adolf Wirz Ranch at Seymour, Texas,” he said. “My daughter, Shannon, and son, Will, both worked at the store and Shannon continues to work there with her husband Jason Pack, who is our store manager.”

Harold Stewart had only had an eighth-grade education. He was often out of school to help his parents work as sharecroppers and farm laborers in southeast Oklahoma and later in Seymour, Mr. Stewart said.

“He was not proud of his limited schooling. In the early 70s he applied for a position with Olney Savings but was handicapped by his lack of schooling and did not get the job,” he said. “It all worked out for the best though as he started his own successful grocery business and Olney Savings did not survive the ‘savings and loan debacle’ of the 1980s.”

The Molina family, Efrain “Penny” Molina and his brothers Homer and David, worked many years at the store and contributed greatly to the store’s success, Mr. Stewart said.

Penny’s son and daughter, and Homer’s wife, Kelly, and their two sons all worked at the store as well. “Penny continues as our produce manager, a position he has held for the last 44 years,” he said.

There have been many changes over the years. “Nothing was computerized or electronic when my parents first started at the Oak Street location,” he said. “Our cash register was a large old NCR mechanical cash register, probably from the 1930s. Charge accounts were kept up with paper, pencil and adding machines.

“Ordering consisted of writing down the quantity of each item on perforated tabs in an order book and tearing off the tabs and sending the order to our wholesaler by mail or on the delivery truck back to the wholesaler.”

Ink “stampers” were used to price every item as it was stocked on the shelf.

Meat arrived as hanging halves or quarters and had to be broken down into the various cuts.

“There was a variety of small, more localized, independent producers and suppliers of meat, produce, eggs, etc., before the large corporations took over,” he said..

“Over the years, thanks to the vision, hard work and dedication of Harold and Faye Stewart, the wonderful support of our customers and community, and the hard work and loyalty of our employees we have weathered and overcome many changes and challenges to establish and maintain a successful family business,” Mr. Stewart said. “We have been truly blessed to be able to live in Olney, raise our families here, and serve the needs of our customers and this great Texas community. We plan to continue to serve Olney and the surrounding area for as long as we have the support of our customers and community.”

Mr. Stewart also noted that his the family of his daughter-in-law, Hannah, has deep ties to the grocery business - nationally and in Olney.

Hannah’s great-grandfather, William F. Bockhoff, son of German immigrants, went to work at a grocery store at age 13 in Indiana, he said.

He opened his own grocery store in his early 1920s. This led to a job with the National Cash Register company as a salesman. He became a top salesmen and patented an improved cash register while there. He moved on to become president of the National Automatic Tool Company, Mr. Stewart added.

Willam F. Bockhoff ’s son, Bill, moved to Olney to enter the oil business and married Peggy Williams, daughter of Walt Williams who owned the Day & Night Grocery in Olney (and probably used Bill’s dad’s improved NCR cash registers), he said.

“It is interesting that so many individual entrepreneurs in the past were able to open small independent grocery stores and provide their families with a middle-class standard of living, educational opportunities and business experience to continue on to other endeavors,” Mr. Stewart said. “That opportunity seems to no longer exist in the current era of bigbox national and international chain stores.”

The public is welcome to attend Planning and Zoning Board meetings and to make comments.