New Oak Harbor store brings more than bargains to market

— Created October 28, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Melanie Hammons

The Thursday, Nov. 5 grand opening of Oak Harbor’s Grocery Outlet Bargain Market spells more than just good news in a year that saw so many businesses close their doors.  The store creates 35 local jobs, plus the opportunity to purchase name brand, high quality merchandise without driving off island.

Store owner-operators Jesse and Melanie Lopez are excited to take their place within the Oak Harbor business community.

“We are overjoyed to be part of Oak Harbor, and to be able to provide big savings on quality groceries,” said Jesse.  “This partnership with Grocery Outlet gives us the ability to grow our business, create new jobs, and more importantly, give back to our local community.”

Grocery Outlet plans to offer a wide range of grocery products, ranging from fresh produce, meat, deli, and dairy, to a wide assortment of natural and organic choices.  They will also offer a large selection of beer and wine, health and beauty care, as well as seasonal items.

The store’s opening on Highway 20, in the new shopping center across from Sally’s Beauty Supply, brings Grocery Outlet’s total store numbers to more than 350, dotted across Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. 

The term, “outlet,” conjures up images of the “no-frills,” “bag-your-own-groceries,” concept stores that once were so prevalent nationwide in the early 70s.  Nowadays, that description doesn’t quite fit the chain’s newest, most modern stores.  However, it very accurately describes Grocery Outlet’s beginnings (under different names at the time) said Dave Hocker, employed for 18 years at the Redmond, Ore., location.

“It was completely different then.  The store’s original name was Redmond Canned Foods, and they used a rainbow image on their outdoor signage” said Hocker, who began working there in high school, and eventually became promoted to assistant manager.

He still remembers details of the grocery store’s more humble surroundings.

“The company owners located their first independent store in a former International Harvester truck garage building,” Hocker said.  “This was 1973.  Concrete floor.  Cinder parking lot.  No shelves to speak of, just boxes of cans stacked upon boxes.”

The company pursued a cost-savings plan that sounds reminiscent of the big box store methods today:  Buy in large quantities, and pass the savings on to customers.  But Grocery Outlet chose to focus particularly on close-outs and overstocks, said Hocker.

“In the early 70s, we only sold canned foods, particularly post-dated, or close-dated items,” he said. “There were a lot of one-time purchases, sometimes in huge, even train-car load quantities. Later on, we moved to add the more fancy items: produce, meat, bread, and general merchandise.”

Hocker remains especially impressed when he remembers how “fantastically loyal” their customers were.

“We had some of the most loyal customers you ever saw.  And the restaurants paid us regular visits, too.  They would snap up things like gallon-size cans of tomato sauce,” he recalled.

“At the time, Redmond was just a rural, ranching community:  Deschutes County in no way approached the growth level that Central Oregon is now known for.  But we had customers driving in from Sisters, La Pine, Prineville, Bend, and even further,” Hocker continued. “They appreciated the savings they could get with us.”

Grocery Outlet’s focus continues to remain on offering the best possible cost savings.  And even though other stores and chains pursue that goal as well, sometimes it’s just nice to buy groceries at low prices without having to purchase them in such big containers, said Hocker, noting that many people are downsizing and just don’t have the pantry space for super-sized products.

The Oak Harbor location will retain much of what inspired Grocery Outlet’s original mission, and how it played out at the original Redmond store, but a lot will be different as well. 

The varying store names have changed to reflect the more uniform “Grocery Outlet” moniker.  The rainbow logo went away some time ago as well.

Shoppers won’t have to park in a cinder parking lot there.  And they can expect a clean, new store, with a far more diverse range of merchandise; i.e., there will be a lot more than just canned goods to choose from.

But one thing that remains unchanged is the drive to deliver high-quality, desirable food and merchandise at low prices.  One practice of Grocery Outlet cashiers is to highlight, on each customer’s receipt, the circled sum at the bottom:  “This is how much money you saved yourself today.”

And yes, they will bag your groceries for you.  Some good things never go out of style.