MIDDLEBURY — Many people can have problems suddenly adjusting to a new, rigorous work schedule.
Greg Wry woke up on Thursday, Dec. 10, trying to adjust to life without a hectic work schedule, one he maintained at a 70-hour-a-week pace as the face and driving force behind the community grocery store on Elm Street that has sported his name for the past 28 years.
Wry, 66, officially retired from Greg’s Meat Market after work on Wednesday. He has sold the popular store to Bart Litvin and Lisa Hartman, who stress that Greg’s will remain Greg’s even without Greg. Simply stated, they vow to continue Wry’s tried-and-tested tradition of a solid, full-service grocery store that will still cart your groceries to your vehicle and deliver to shut-ins.
“We want this to be a seamless transition,” Litvin said, noting that even the name of the store will remain the same: “Greg’s.”
And why not? It’s a winning formula that Wry instituted from the day he took over what was then Stan’s Shop & Save on Oct. 1, 1981. Of course by that point, Wry had already logged around three decades in the supermarket business. He had worked at the former Middlebury A&P for 22 years, 19 of them as manager. Prior to that, he had — since the tender age of 6 — done chores at a small grocery store in St. Albans.
Stan’s was a small, two-aisle store with a minuscule inventory when Wry took it over in ’81, but he quickly put his imprint on it. His strategy included obtaining the freshest produce, groceries and meat — and that meant dealing with local vendors. It’s a practice he has continued to this day, as evidenced by ongoing relationships with Monument Farms Dairy and the Maple Meadow egg farm in Salisbury, among others.
“Customer service is a big thing with me, and I know it will be with Bart,” Wry said. “‘Quality and service always comes first’ has always been our slogan.”
Sticking to that credo has meant hiring more workers (there are currently 59) and remodeling and expanding the store, which Wry did in 1992 and 2002. The store now possesses 7,000 square feet of space, which allows it to compete more readily with larger supermarkets in the area.
But Greg’s devoted clientele — which ranges from college professors to lunch-pail construction workers — has been drawn to Greg’s for more than the groceries. It’s also been about the kind, familiar faces, the personal attention and a knowledge that money they spend there will largely be re-circulated in the local economy.
Gail Freidin, coordinator of the Better Middlebury Partnership, said it’s no secret why Greg’s has maintained its popularity throughout the years.
“It’s small, independent and has a huge emphasis on customer service,” Freidin said. “Greg has been an owner-manager and not a manager working for an out-of-state corporation. Greg has been very involved and engaged in the community.”
Middlebury resident Patricia Brakeley has been a Greg’s shopper since Wry bought the business. She has received some home deliveries, as well as cordial advice from Greg’s workers who have come to know Brakeley’s shopping needs.
“They sometimes say, ‘Mrs. Brakeley, you really need this and not that,’” she said, alluding to advice on items she has put in her cart. “I have been exceedingly happy with all the help I’ve received.”
Indeed, Wry has personally delivered groceries to a lot of people, occasionally on holidays. Wry delivered a turkey to a Bristol woman one Thanksgiving morning. Those people have shown their gratitude not only with words, but by baking him cookies and inviting him to sit down for a beverage after he puts their groceries on the kitchen counter.
“I’ve had a lot of local customers these past 28 years,” Wry said. “They become your friends.”
As have many of Greg’s workers, many of whom have been on board for more than a dozen years. His staff has, at various times, included daughter Susan and son Glenn.
“The store wouldn’t be where it is today without my employees and the loyal customers,” Wry said. “And my children have played a big role in this, too.”
While he has enjoyed his job, Wry recently decided the time was right to wind down and sell the business. He said he is confident he has found the right buyers in Litvin and Hartman (see related story, this issue). As he helps the new buyers settle in, Wry will continue to be a presence in the community — primarily as a longstanding member of the Middlebury Lion’s Club and as a new volunteer with the Make A Wish Foundation.
“Hopefully, I will do some more good work there,” he said of his charitable activities.