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Ernst Market serves community

June 11, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

CLEAR SPRING - Fresh produce, meats and community spirit are plentiful at Ernst Country Market in Clear Spring.

Owner Greg Ernst, 48, and Manager George Rowe, 38, run the family business with a reputation for community service. The Clear Spring natives have worked side by side for more than 20 years. They became business partners about three years ago, Ernst said.

"We're not brothers but we're pretty darn close. I couldn't run this place without George," Ernst said. "We need each other."

Together, Ernst and Rowe handle the day-to-day operation of the store at 11650 Dam No. 5 Road. Their partnership has flourished because they get along well, share a strong work ethic and have reliable, hard-working employees, Ernst said.

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"Greg is always kind and smiling and he always asks about my family and how I'm feeling," longtime store patron Virginia Seibert said. "George is his right-hand man and he does a great job, too."

Seibert said she values the convenience of shopping within a mile of her home.

Ernst Country Market offers a full-service delicatessen and meat counter, produce from local growers, seafood, bulk candy, homemade desserts and a large selection of such standard supermarket items as canned, dried and frozen foods, pet supplies, medicines and paper products.

Unlike most big supermarket chains, though, Ernst Country Market supports its community through a number of altruistic efforts.

Ernst and Rowe launched a free community Christmas dinner eight years ago. In the midst of the busy hunting and holiday seasons, they supply and prepare all the food for the dinner. They also deliver turkey and all the traditional fixings to those who can't make it to the church hall to eat.

The pair depend upon volunteers from area churches and civic groups to help with the dinner, they said.

"There's a lot of great groups and people in this area," Ernst said.

Ernst and Rowe served about 75 people at the first dinner. They served about 500 people last year, they said.

Ernst attributes the event's popularity to his partner's culinary skills.

"George is the best cook around," he said.

Ernst Country Market was among the first meat processing stations in the county to sign on with Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, processing at a discounted rate the venison that hunters donate to FHFH.

Ernst employees processed about 5,000 pounds of meat last deer season, Ernst said.

"George and Greg are like family," FHFH founder Rick Wilson said. "They are just great Christian people who do the things they say they're going to do."

Ernst and Rowe always give discounts on food and labor costs to local charitable organizations, churches and schools, they said.

"We make sure we always give 'em a good discount because it's for a good cause," Ernst said. "This community is taking care of us, so we have to give back."

Rowe cuts and cooks all the steaks for monthly steak feeds at the Clear Spring American Legion. He and Ernst provide the chicken that groups such as the Clear Spring Senior Citizens, Clear Spring Fire Co., Clear Spring High School Football Committee, and Clear Spring High School show choir and tennis team then barbecue and sell to raise funds, they said.

Ernst and Rowe aren't concerned about cutting their profits by giving big discounts to local groups, they said.

"It's going to come back to us one way or another," Ernst said.

Ernst and Rowe honor the grocery vouchers that the Clear Spring Lions Club Food Bank gives to people in need. They also prepare the meals that the Lions Club provides for the Big Pine Children's Shelter in Clear Spring.

"They cooperate completely. They always have," said Lions Club member Harry Bryan, who manages the food bank.

"Greg Ernst is tops in my book. He's just like his daddy," Bryan said. "There wasn't a better man alive than Orville Ernst."

Both Greg Ernst and George Rowe said they learned the importance of community service from their parents.

Pearl and the late Orville Ernst, who started Ernst Country Market in 1945, were always willing to support their community, Greg Ernst said.

Rowe's father, Charlie Rowe, has been a Big Brother for Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Washington County for 20 years. He also donates his time to barbecue up to 7,000 chickens each year for nonprofit fund-raisers.

Charlie Rowe, who works part-time at Ernst Country Market, originated the idea for the free community dinner, his son said.

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