Purchase photos

Officials, potential customers welcome new grocery store

7/19/2014

SALINA (MCT) — About 30 years ago, Betty Robey worked as a cashier at the Dillons grocery store at 505 E. Iron.

As she walked around Friday at a neighborhood party to welcome a Save-A-Lot grocery store to the former Dillons building, she saw a number of former customers in line for one of the 480 hot dogs prepared by Mayor Aaron Householter and Commissioner Jon Blanchard.

"I don't think they recognized me," Robey said. "I've changed a lot."

It's been almost two years since it was announced that the Dillons grocery would close as a new one was opening at Cloud and Ohio streets, and organizers of the party said about 500 people gathered to welcome the new store, including city and county officials, representatives of the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce and Salina Downtown Inc., north Salina developers, store operators and a slew of potential customers. Party organizers gave away hot dogs and snow cones and participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Renovation of the building starts Monday, said Hanif Lakhani, who will be operating the store, and the store could open by the end of the year.

Patricia LaBranche and other residents of Johnstown Towers, 623 Johnstown, showed up using walkers and in wheelchairs.

"There are a lot of people I know here," LaBranche said.

She said people at the towers were happy to hear a new grocery store was to occupy the building.

"Everyone in the neighborhood, we're going to be in support of it," she said.

LaBranche now shops at Dillons on West Crawford Street when her son can drive her.

"I go once a week. I don't drive. I don't have a car," she said.

She added that she would like to see a crossing light on Iron Avenue, where she crosses to visit a Laundromat and Burger King.

A large crowd

Jeff Denton, of B&K Pharmacy, one of the sponsors of the party, said the crowd was larger than he had expected.

"I thought there would be 20 to 30 people here," he said. "I think this is the greatest thing going. I've been there (across the street) for almost 40 years. In all that time I've seen Johnstown Towers built. Every day I would see people pushing their grocery cart. Every day. Dillons moved out and all these people don't know where to go. It's people that don't drive or walk far. I hope people will take advantage of it and support it."

Neighborhood grocery

Shoppers at the former Dillons remember it as a neighborhood grocery store.

"People knew each other, visited with each other, and didn't just run through a store, put things in a basket and leave," said Salina City Commissioner Kaye Crawford. "That's my concept of a grocery store."

Crawford remembers her mother shopping there.

"It wasn't just a little market. It was big enough to have enough services and goods that it was worth going there," Crawford said. "But it wasn't so big you had to walk for miles and miles to get what you wanted. I knew the ladies that worked there. It was just a neighborhood store."

Robey recalls Bernice Bachofer, Crawford's mother.

"They were just great people," Robey said of the shoppers who frequented the store. "I still run into some of their children who were with their mothers when I checked them out. I remember the kids, and I liked little kids. They will to this day come up and remember me, which makes me so proud."

One of her proudest moments was when Crawford and her husband, Lee, who was in the military, returned to Salina to visit.

"Her mother (Bernice) was a good customer and when they would come in from military leave from out of state, she always brought them to the store so I could see Kaye and Lee," Robey said. "It was nice to feel like you were acquainted with their families and you were appreciated by them, for the work you did helping them get their groceries and find things in the store. It was a lot of fun years."

Robey said shopping was more of a family environment, with less technology.

"We had a conveyor belt but we had to reach over and put everything out of their basket and put everything onto the conveyor belt that ran past our registers," she said. "We didn't have coding then. Everything was done by hand. We had wonderful butchers and bakers that baked right there in the store. We had produce managers that cleaned all the vegetables and sorted all the strawberries and bananas and made sure they didn't have soft spots.

Improvements on way

Melissa Hodges, executive director of Salina Downtown, said more improvements are coming to East Iron Avenue.

"The city is going to be doing some street improvements and enhancements to Iron Avenue," she said. "There has been talk about developing a gateway and different types of material for the street. Downtown is going to look pretty spiffy on that side."

That will benefit Salina and the downtown.

"They have built it and people will come," she said. "The combination of having Assurance Partners, the flagship building to the entrance to downtown, by having the community theater's absolute gorgeous remodeling and renovation, and then on top of that we will have the Save-A-Lot grocery store in that area, which is going to be completely renovated and look like a brand new facility, we have completely changed the feel of the entrance to downtown."

-- Reporter Tim Horan can be reached at 822-1422 or thoran@salina.com.

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(c)2014 The Salina Journal (Salina, Kan.)