PITTSBURG — Ron’s Supermarket started with family and continues four decades later.

Ron and Barbara Rhodes met in 1968 while both were freshmen attending Kansas Teachers College, now Pittsburg State University. Ron pursued a degree in Automotive Technology and Barbara a degree in Health and Physical Education.  

Both graduated in May 1972 and despite their degrees, the Rhodes’ followed the path of Barbara’s parents, Rex and Virginia Thompson who owned Rex’s Superette which was located on South Joplin Street.
“Her mom and dad were really nice to us, really gracious,” Ron said. “They really helped us learn the business.
“It was really fun going to work everyday, greeting the customers and the excitement of talking to customers, selling product. It was always an enjoyable atmosphere being around people.”

After working alongside Thompson’s parents at their store, Ron and Barbara opened their first grocery store on January 4, 1976 at 1103 North Rouse Street. The store — a small neighborhood market — began with four employees.

“A lot of the customers walked to the store because we were in their neighborhood,” Ron said. “One thing I could say about that is that we didn’t lock our back door.
“We had as many customers come in the back door as the front depending on where their house was.”

In March of 1984 the store was relocated to Meadowbrook Mall, a new space which was three times larger than the Rouse Street store. Ron’s was operated in the mall until May 1995.

A new facility was built in 1996 at the store’s present location, 310 E. Centennial Drive.
“Probably the thing that I can appreciate more about the experience than anything else is a lot of the customers that shopped in that [Rouse Street] store, they and their families still shop with us here,” Ron said. “It’s frequent when I have somebody come up and say ‘do you remember me when I was a little kid, I used to come down to your store and buy candy on Rouse street’ and of course they are grown up and they have kids and grandkids.”

The real satisfaction, he said, is that he still sees customers from the first store location.  

As the store grew, the Rhodes’ family grew to include three sons; Drew, Matt and Tim who spent most of their early years growing up in the backroom of the store.

Currently, two of the sons work at the store. Drew, began working there in 1998. After working for a grocery wholesale company after studying at PSU, he came back home to join the family business. Tim also went to school, moved away and then came back to work at the store.
 
Working with family “is probably a lot easier than people think,” Drew said.
“Mom and dad would take us to the store and, over the years, found the best way to interact with each other,” he said. “I’d say this whether he’s here or not, but dad is an outstanding boss to us, he gives us the opportunity to succeed or fail, he doesn’t meddle into what we are trying to do and then he’s there for guidance and support in whatever we want to try to do.
“It’s a real benefit for us to have somebody with that type of knowledge and wisdom, he’s been doing it for so long.”

Working as a team was important to succeed, Ron said.
“My wife and I worked together side by side every day for 35 years and it was really a good relationship,” Ron said. “I don’t think we would probably have been able to succeed if we both had not worked together as a team.
“Without her and the teamwork atmosphere, I think that’s what helped us stay in business.”

Also working side by side like his father and mother, is Tim and his wife Sam. They met at the grocery store, and have worked together for the past 14 years.

What Ron is most proud of is his staff over the years, he said. In the beginning they started with Ron, Barbara and two part time employees, now there are 85 employees in Pittsburg, and over 100 more in another Ron’s Supermarket in Branson, Missouri.
“We have a really good staff here,” Ron said. “It makes it a pleasure to come to work every day, not only to see my sons but when I come in I always walk around the store to speak to our staff because many of them have been with us 25, 30 years and they are really just like family, I mean that sincerely.
“I feel pretty fortunate that we have what we think are really nice people that enjoy taking care of our customers.”

One of his long-time employees, Produce Manager Rebecca Holroyd, has worked with the store since 1993. She said her job is interesting, with produce being seasonal there are changes to look forward to each season.
“I like my customers,” Rebecca said adding “the people I work with are amazing.”

Another employee, Market Manager Charley Maransani, has worked for the store since 1983. The work environment is family-like, “we have amazing work relationships, I’ve been happy with my job and enjoy working here,” Charley said.
 
Several generations of people have shopped at the Ron’s or worked there. For example, Ron said a PSU student is working in the same job his own father did 25 years ago.
“That kind of always makes you feel good that they still remember you and they value that work experience and would recommend their kid,” Ron said.
Ron’s Supermarket has also supported many school events and projects — including Little League Baseball, YMCA programs and projects, PSU activities, the Veterans Memorial, Immigrant Park, and the Megan Mallet Activity Center. Ron’s is also a sponsor for the Mt. Carmel Foundation Gala, and other causes in the community.

The Rhodes’ are also proud of “forward thinking” as the years went by.
“One of the things that I’m proud about is our forward thinking,” Drew said, adding they were one of the first stores in the area which utilized social media for sales and connecting with the community.

Forward thinking also included online ordering and delivery.
“Delivery, has come full circle,” Tim said, noting the older concept has been brought back to life at the store.

The store is also known for its pop up sales, which “Takes a lot of planning, involves a lot of people in store. Everyone gets excited and they put a lot of effort into it,” Ron said. “Rebecca, our produce manager, really takes an interest in having fresh produce, quality produce and healthy eats.”

(Editor’s Note: This article is the first of the Morning Sun’s Legacy Business series.)