Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - August 28, 2015

Losing an old friend

I returned home last week after spending almost four weeks in Wisconsin. Needing to re-stock my refrigerator, I pulled into the parking lot of my favorite grocery store. That was when I saw the signs! The prices were 40-60 percent off throughout the store.

No, it wasn't some ordinary sale. It was bad news. It was closing.

Now this event is hardly something I would call life altering, although it will alter my life. Husband Art might even think it's silly that I felt sad when I learned it was closing. While Art always opts for the "buy anything" Walmart store, Ray's Apple Market was my first choice for groceries.

When I entered, I was startled by how empty the shelves were. I walked through the fresh produce section first. Normally piled high with colorful peppers, oranges, apples, bananas, berries, lettuce, melons and other vegetables and fruits, all that remained in the displays were bottled salad dressings and veggie dips and a few odds and ends. I guess radicchios, chayotes and rutabagas aren't that popular as there were plenty of them still available. I picked up a bag of croutons and one of dried tropical fruit and moved on.

The bakery section was almost as empty. A few birthday cakes, loaves of bread and packages of cookies remained. Ray's had been my "go-to" place for ordering custom-designed cakes for events such as our journalism and mass communications centennial in 2010 and for Mom's 90th birthday last year.

The deli section was closed. This made me downright sad. Ever since Ray's opened 10 years ago, our family has purchased its crispy, delectable Chester's Chicken for birthdays, 4th of July celebrations and many other occasions that weren't really special at all - except for the excellent chicken and potato salad. Sometimes we'd add mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, cole slaw and dinner rolls. Art, who can be pretty particular about some foods, really liked Ray's potato salad, often commenting that it was almost as good as mine. I liked it too. I also liked that it wasn't near as much work as making it myself. I was so pleased with their food that I also had them cater a tailgate party for our department.

I suppose it is silly, but as I made my way around the store, I felt as though I had lost a good friend. I picked up a few more items - olive loaf lunch meat, frozen salmon and cod fillets, Twinkies, a small tub of margarine. I noticed that several shoppers had carts filled to overflowing with discounted food items. I wondered whether they had been loyal Ray's shoppers or if they were just taking advantage of the lower prices.

Art asked me if I had found any bargains. I told him I purchased a few things, but no amount of discount would make me buy frozen pork stomachs or beef tripe, two items that seemed not to be moving very quickly.

I told one of the workers that I was going to miss the store.

"That's what people have been telling us this whole week," he said.

In a recent article published in The Manhattan Mercury, Ray's owner Mike Floersch said he wasn't comfortable with a new lease agreement with the building's owner, who is now in the process of selling the building. Floersch's son Aaron said the store had a loyal customer base, but found it difficult to compete with other grocery stores in town.

The Floersch family brought two Ray's to Manhattan in 2005. They had checked with city officials to see if any other grocery stores were thinking about moving to Manhattan and were told none were as far as they knew. But when the city's new mall had trouble finding a major tenant, a deal was struck with Hy-Vee - a major grocery retailer. The handwriting was then on the wall for Ray's downtown store that was just a few blocks away. It closed in 2014.

They still have stores in Clay Center, St. Marys, Seneca and Council Grove, Kansas, and Fairbury, Nebraska. But that doesn't help me. I'll miss their wide selection of fresh produce and meats, the convenience of being able to stop by the store on my way home, the friendly checkers, the helpful baggers who always offered to take my bags to the car. I even saved the two-handled brown paper bags they put the groceries in.

I still have a lot of options for buying food - Walmart, Target, Hy-Vee and Dillons. But I really liked this store. Grocery shopping won't be the same without my old friend.

Upper-left: One day when I went in to shop, this image of the Kansas State University "Powercat" made me smile. It was created from Pepsi and Grape Crush packages of canned pop. Note how the shelves were full. lower-left: the shelves on my recent visit; right: Mom Edla with her 90th birthday cake Ray's made last year.

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