Service makes Gordon's a super market

Gordon's Grocery has been a family tradition since 1923

Gordon's Grocery has been a family tradition since 1923

June 04, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY


They're not stockholders, but customers of Gordon's Grocery have invested loyalty in the small store, which pays its dividends in the form of friendly familiar faces, specialty foods combined with staples and hard-to-rival customer service.

One such loyal customer is Shirley Fout Miller.

On a recent warm afternoon, Miller stopped in at Gordon's and paid for a cantaloupe and a few ears of corn. She had unabashed praise for the store, which has been doing business on Cypress Street in Hagerstown's North End for more than 80 years.

Miller said she tries to buy most of her groceries at the store, which is on the first floor of a house.


"The service" makes Miller a loyal customer, she said.

She said that if she asks John Gordon or Cynthia Millsop, the brother and sister who own the store, where something is, they don't simply point a finger or tell her. They retrieve it.

Gordon carries groceries to people's cars, newspaper clips featuring customers or customers' children are posted by the store's door, and birthdays and other milestones in patrons' lives are written on a board.

When a snowstorm is expected, a legal pad is placed on the counter for people to guess how many inches of snow will fall. The person whose guess is closest receives a free chicken.

Those are some of the little touches of customer service that a smaller store can offer.

Gordon's offers locally grown fruits and vegetables, specialty foods not commonly available, organic products, wine and beer, personalized gift baskets, and fresh meats and seafood, including rotisserie chicken and wild salmon harvested from the North Atlantic.

On this afternoon, a customer voiced her excitement at learning the store carried Panko, or Japanese bread flakes, which she said are difficult to find.

Staples on the shelves include pasta, cheeses, breads, cleaning products, paper products, dry boxed goods, cookies, soups, frozen foods, cold drinks and spices. Boxes of candy are kept behind the counter.

Space restrictions prevent a vast selection, which might not always be a bad thing. Some people would rather not stand in the aisles of a large grocery store to choose from row upon row of cookies, paper towels and tubes of adult toothpaste.

From 1923

Gordon's owners Millsop, 64, and Gordon, 51, both work behind the counter, bag groceries and ring up purchases using adding machines and an old cash register. The cash register has a hand crank on its right side that comes in handy when the power fails.

Most customers are greeted by name and a bit of friendly banter: How are the kids? How's the job going?

Harry Clinton Gordon Sr. founded the store in 1923, in the same space it now occupies. Some of the same shelves have been holding food for all of the years the store has been open.

"It really hasn't changed too much over the years, but we can pack a lot of stuff in here," Millsop said.

The store later was taken over by Harry C. and Jane Gordon - Millsop and Gordon's parents. Harry C. Gordon started working at the store in 1947 after his mother died.

Millsop and Gordon took over when their parents died. A third sibling was involved, but retired.

It's not as clear who might run the store next.

Gordon has no children, and Millsop said neither of her adult children seems interested - one works as a builder and the other for a travel agency. Hope might lay with one of Millsop's two grandchildren, an 18-month-old who likes to "arrange" the store's shelves, she said.

A family tradition

Meeting people and watching families grow and children grow older are some of the reasons Gordon and Millsop said they love what they do.

Many of the store's customers have been frequenting Gordon's not for years, but for decades.

"We have a lot of older customers that have dealt with us for a long time," Millsop said. "We still deliver. We take care of them."

Some customers visited the store first with their parents and, later, on their own.

Randy Bachtell practically grew up in the store, and Millsop was his baby sitter. Now grown, Bachtell has children of his own and counts himself among Gordon's loyal customers.

"It's convenient. Friendly people. Good food," Bachtell said. "They have specialty things here that other places don't carry. Plus, the service you get here, you're not going to find that anywhere else."

Some people have said they like the store because it reduces the chance of impulse buying; they're less likely to walk out with far more items than they intended to buy.

"You get what you need and that's it," Gordon said.

What about prices?

"We might be a little higher on some items and not on others," Gordon said.

What a person might pay a little extra for, they could make up in time and effort saved.

"It's small enough that you don't have to walk for miles to get a quart of milk or a loaf of bread," Millsop said.

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