The IGA supermarket here has changed ownership and the new owners plan on ending the more than 30-year relationship with that franchise operation, but they’re trying to minimize the disruption for longtime customers.
“We’re going to try to keep the same items, not all the same,” said Andres Gutierrez, who along with brother Ruben took over the store at 2971 Wendell Blvd. at the beginning of August. They took over from Jerry Pope who had owned the store since 1992. Pope, who turns 74 in September, is retiring.
The brothers recently moved to Clayton from Pennsylvania, where they also owned a grocery store. Another brother, Juan, is taking over that one.
They also have a cousin, Felipe Gutierrez, who owns Tropicana and Compare grocery stores in Smithfield, Greenville and Clinton. The Wendell store will be changing to the Tropicana name in the next month or so.
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The brothers, who immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic in the ’90s, plan to reach out to the Latino market, already rearranging the produce section in the 13,000-square-foot store and beginning to offer new produce from Latino nations.
Online reviews of the Greenville Tropicana store rave about the Jamaican, Puerto Rican and Mexican items available in the produce section. Most of its Facebook posts are in Spanish.
“I love being able to help people find products that they won’t find anywhere else,” Andres Gutierrez said. “Any produce that people ask for, we’re going to bring it in.”
The Gutierrez brothers say they want to keep a balance of reaching out to new customers in the Latino market while keeping other popular products on the shelves for their current customers.
Pope is still coming in to the store two to three times a week for a few hours to help with the transition, getting the new owners acquainted with the customers and employees.
Pope was born into the grocery business – his father, Owen W. Pope, owned a grocery store in Wilson – but he also has a small farm in northern Johnston County, and that’s where he plans to spend his time in retirement. “I’m looking forward to not having to be somewhere every day,” he said. “The grocery business is a pretty demanding business.”
The IGA on Wendell Boulevard opened in 1983, and Pope took over there in 1992, so he is saying goodbye to customers he has served for 24 years. “I’m going to miss a lot of the friends I’ve made, so that’ll be sad,” he said.
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826