They used to dot every neighborhood in Any City, USA.
But family-run grocery stores — those places where employees know customers by name — are quickly disappearing off the American landscape, being replaced by larger, corporate-owned convenience stores.
Those cherished and respected last names attached to the markets have been replaced by corporate initials.
For that, we’re worse off.
Thankfully, when Bob and Donna Manning, who owned and operated D’s Market on Sutphin Street in Middletown for 30 years, decided it was time to retire, time to visit aging relatives, time to live a little, they found a buyer for their business.
Otherwise, D’s Market would have joined other closed family-owned Middletown grocery stores such as Vitori’s Market, Kelly’s Market, McGee’s and Dillman’s.
The Mannings, both 69, sold their business to Kirpal Gill, who owns four convenience stores, including the Madison Food Mart in Madison Twp.
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It’s unclear what changes Gill will make to D’s Market, or even if the name will remain, but here’s one guarantee: He’ll have trouble replacing the Mannings.
The Middletown couple bought the business on Feb. 8, 1987, when it was called Egleston’s Market, and before that Dillman’s and Kroger. It remained Egleston’s until the Mannings started selling beer and lottery tickets. That’s when Minnie Egleston politely asked for her name to be removed.
It’s been D’s Market — after Donna — ever since.
Not only are Bob and Donna Manning married, they’re business partners, too. They wake up together, work together and go home together. The store is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. six days a week, and for most of those 72 hours every week, either Bob or Donna are there.
When they bought the business, Egleston gave them one piece of advice: “You have to run your business yourself.”
“That was old-school,” Donna said. “But we have done that.”
So now, with their 70th birthdays approaching, they decided to sell. Either walk away or be buried in the place.
“We’re both getting old,” Bob said while standing in the office at the back of the store. “It’s time to do something else. You can’t be tied down this much and try to do something else.”
He compared selling the business to sending a child off to college.
“There comes a time when you got to move on,” he said.
But they will leave behind a lifetime of memories. Their first customers 30 years ago, those runny-nosed kids, now are parents.
The deal to sell the market was finalized last week, though the Mannings will stay around for a week to help with the transition. Bob Manning was asked if he made any money off the sale.
“Probably be close,” he said with a smile.
The Mannings said the plan is for the staff to be retained. One of those, Teresa Zulock, has worked at the market for six years. By now, she knows what every customer wants before they walk through the door.
“I enjoy it,” she said. “It’s family here.”
Then Fred Conley walked in to play his Ohio Lottery numbers.
Conley owned Conley’s Car Wash for years and now he’s trying to sell his business. So far, no takers. He believes most young people today have no interest in owning their own business.
“It’s an older generation thing,” he said. “Today, they don’t want to be bothered with that. This is too much work.”
No one needs to tell the Mannings that. While they have sold D’s Market, it always will be a part of their lives.
When Bob Manning drives down Sutphin, he automatically will look over at the brick building at the corner of Sutphin and Sherman Avenue, his home for the last 30 years.
“You can’t keep from doing that,” he said. “I will always look. I’ll have to see who’s walking in.”
He paused, looked around the office, then added: “It’s heart wrenching some times.”