Family market bucks the trend Competition: With grocery-store chains overpowering the industry, the co-owners of Foodrite-Groceteria in Mount Airy plan to preserve their business for a third generation.

July 19, 1996|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

The little family grocery that James W. Linton Sr. and his brother-in-law William L. Rimbey started in Mount Airy in 1947 has become one of a relatively few family-owned supermarkets in a business increasingly dominated by chains.

The Foodrite-Groceteria Inc.'s second-generation owners feel the competitive heat, but they believe their store and shopping center will be there for a third generation, if their sons or daughters are interested.

"The business is going to be tough, but my son has said, 'Your father had Foodrite and you have Foodrite, so I guess that means I get Foodrite,' " said corporation President Jimmy Linton.

He told his son Brian, 13, to start as a bagger in a few years and find out whether the grocery business is what he wants. But yes, the store and shopping center at 1312 S. Main St. -- which includes a Rite Aid and closed Jamesway store -- will be there.

Linton owns the business with his cousin Bobby Rimbey, son of the co-founder, and Virgil Porter, who is married to one of Linton's cousins. Linton is the numbers cruncher, Rimbey the maintenance supervisor, and Porter is the meat, produce and deli supervisor. He also supervises the in-store restaurant.

The owners foresee a competitive squeeze from a planned Super Fresh, which will bring a fourth supermarket to Mount Airy, from existing and planned chain supermarkets in the area and from proliferating convenience stores and gas stations that carry food.

"Everybody's selling groceries now," Porter said.

It was tough in the beginning, too. James Linton Sr. left a job as a welder at Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. and William Rimbey quit a railroad job to go into the grocery business. They rented space on North Main Street near the site of Mount Airy Locker Co.

Fearing that the business wouldn't support their families, the founders bought an old school bus, put in shelves and a cash register and became a traveling convenience store. The bus took groceries and fresh produce to towns such as Lisbon, Woodbine and Lochearn.

In the three years it ran, it helped establish the Groceteria.

The founders moved the store in 1950 to the building at 407 S. Main St. now occupied by Mount Airy Auto Parts.

Jimmy Linton started working there at age 9, bagging groceries, sorting returned glass soda bottles, sweeping the wooden floor -- "You never could get that floor clean," he recalled. Bobby Rimbey worked in the store, too.

Later, James Linton Sr. and William Rimbey bought about an acre at 1312 S. Main St. in 1962. It had been planned for a church, but the congregation was never able to build more than a basement.

The owners opened the Foodrite in the building now occupied by Rite Aid. The 6,000-square-foot building was leased to the pharmacy after Jimmy Linton, Bobby Rimbey and Porter, who had bought the business in 1973, built an adjacent 24,000-square-foot store in 1984.

Even now, at 48, Linton said he's not sure what he wants to be when he grows up. He graduated from Strayer Business College in 1968 and spent six years in the Navy. He returned from the Mediterranean to Mount Airy and decided to stay because he liked the grocery store and the people.

Rimbey, 52, also spent six years in the Navy and returned to the family business. He loved maintenance, but hated meat cutting, so he and Linton recruited Porter, 56, a Randallstown native who had been a meat manager at an A&P store for 14 years.

"A&P had a dress code and I thought we should have a dress code," Porter said. But his new partners quashed the idea. "They said, 'I don't want to wear a tie,' " he recalled.

The Foodrite partners are hands-on owners. Linton sweeps the parking lot occasionally. Porter cuts weeds. They put in long hours, but as independent franchise owners, they're in charge.

"We don't have to answer to anyone but us, so we can make a decision right here. We don't have to wait three weeks for it to go through corporate headquarters," Porter said.

If a church group wants a price on, for example, 100 pounds of ground round for a supper, Porter can give them a reduced rate, something he couldn't do in his previous job.

The owners say they don't have a definite plan to keep the store's market share for the future. They see the old ways passing. Only two customers still charge their groceries, a custom that dated to a time when most customers were farmers, who didn't have cash until the monthly milk check arrived.

Pub Date: 7/19/96

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