new old store
Steve and Donna Carl's old-time store
specializes in Missouri products
by Jim McCarty
of Miller what they think of the new store in town and you'll hear words
not normally associated with grocers. "This was an answer to a prayer,"
says Cindy Gullick, who frequents the tiny store with her baby, Bethany,
in her arms.
"Our church did
a survey to see what was needed in this community. One of the biggest
needs was a store in town. The closest one is in Mount Vernon. A lot of
people end up going all the way to Springfield."
It would be easy
to miss the store Steve and Donna Carl opened last August in this southwest
Missouri town. It occupies a building in the town's sleepy downtown. Walk
in and you might not recognize it for what it is unless you grew
up in the 1940s when grocery stores were different.
|Steve Carl weighs
produce in the little store he and his wife, Donna, opened in Miller.
The owners go out of their way to find Missouri products to offer
but we've got the products," says Steve, a member of Ozark Electric Cooperative.
"We carry right at 400 products. And 75.9 percent are Missouri products."
Steve says his
goal in opening Carl's Store was to serve the community. And this philosophy
is carried to extremes few grocers would be willing to take.
"I think you should
support the local person," Steve says. "I try to buy from the mom-and-pop
operation more than anything. I will buy locally as long as it's financially
Take one look
at Steve's well-stocked shelves and his dedication to supporting Missouri
businesses becomes apparent. His milk comes from Martin Dairy in Humansville,
a business started to add value to farm products. "The milk that is delivered
on Saturday was bottled Friday," Steve says. "Chances are it was in the
cow when I ordered it."
He sells Ozark
Country barbeque sauce made in Dunnegan. His jelly is made in Branson.
He sells bread made by the Amish in Mount Vernon. You can get grape juice
made in St. James, cheese from Springfield, salad dressing from Carthage,
cereal from Joplin, lunch meat from New Franklin and root beer from St.
Pickles were a
real problem for him. "The smallest size I could get was 5 gallons," he
says. Eventually he stumbled on Dinah's Kitchen pickles from Ozark, reportedly
the only pickle Gov. Bob Holden will eat.
products is no easy task, but it's one Steve believes is worthwhile. He
starts with the AgriMissouri Guide published by the Missouri Department
If Steve can't
find a Missouri product to sell he will go to border states. For example,
his canned vegetables are made in Siloam Springs, Ark. He picked them
because most of the contents are grown in southwest Missouri.
He gave up trying
to find a reliable Missouri supplier of potato chips and settled for Frito-Lay
brands, made in Kansas but topped with ingrediants from Dairy Farmers
of America based in Springfield.
Only if he strikes
out in border states will Steve stock a national brand. That doesn't happen
often. One concession was to stock Pepsi. "That's for my wife, who's a
Pepsi-holic," Steve says.
His fresh produce
is about as local as it can get. While Steve raises eggs, he also buys
them from Miller residents. "We've got one boy who sells eggs and we keep
a tally on him. When he finds a new CD or something that he wants he comes
in and says it's time to get paid."
When local gardens
are in season Steve buys produce from his neighbors. The barter system
is alive and well in Miller. Those who want to swap can trade dollar for
dollar for what Steve has on his shelves.
the basket so Cindy Gullick can attend to her baby while shopping.
Steve has a system
for adding new products. "People come in and say, 'I want' and we mark
it down or make a mental note of it. The next person who asks for the
same item we get three or four. If that goes over we buy it by the case."
In this manner he figures the inventory of the little store has quadrupled
since it opened.
Carl's Store began
as an outlet for the family farm. But it wasn't long before the concept
turned into something of a crusade to bring back the old ways of doing
business. "When someone walks in the doors of a big store they could care
less if the customer is in there or not. If they close around 9 the doors
are locked before it's time. People here know that if the light is on
they can come on in."
Steve's role as
storekeeper goes far beyond stocking shelves. Often people come in with
the eternal question: "What's for dinner?" Steve dispenses as much advice
as he does goods.
Others need products
Steve doesn't sell, so he makes the trip next door to the hardware store
and has the order ready for pickup. If a mother has her hands full with
a new baby Steve carries the groceries to the car.
And if he can
do anything to help make Miller a better place to live in like
accepting food stamps he'll do it. "We do that because there is
a need in this community. We don't have million dollar incomes in this
The little store
isn't going to make Steve a millionaire either, but it is earning its
keep. Support from the town has been good, with one woman telling Steve
she has spent just $30 on groceries away from his store.
nice," Steve says. "You couldn't ask for nicer people. This community
really pulls together."
For more information
about Carl's Store call (417) 452-3600.