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Joel's Family Foods closes doors, merges with Paynesville SuperValu

PAYNESVILLE -- Paynesville has lost one of its in-town grocery stores, but there are plenty of familiar faces at the remaining Paynesville SuperValu.

Paynesville's longtime downtown grocery store, Joel's Family Foods, officially closed its doors Jan. 29 after merging with Paynesville SuperValu in December, but almost all of Joel's employees now work for Paynesville SuperValu as a condition of the merger.

In December, the two local grocers started talking about a possible merger, said Andrea Teals of Teals Management Group in Paynesville. The Teals family owns six SuperValu grocery stores in Minnesota and three more in the Dakotas. Teal's great-grandfather opened the first store in Cass Lake in 1942.

Teals said the two companies decided to merge by mid-January. She said Paynesville SuperValu wanted the merger because the store's size was too large for the sales volume it was producing.

Joel Burr, former owner of Joel's Family Foods and incoming manager of Paynesville SuperValu, agreed that a merger was the best option for the two companies.

"We both needed to be doing more business than what we were doing and where do you get it?" said Burr, who inherited the store from his father who opened it more than 40 years ago. Burr and his father were partners in the business until Burr became the owner about 11 years ago, he said.

In the merger negotiations, Burr pulled for employment of his staff at Paynesville SuperValu. Burr said the merger probably wouldn't have happened, from the standpoint of Joel's Family Foods, if future employment wasn't a possibility.

"One of the things my dad taught me was 'take care of the people that take care of you.' They are your bread and butter," Burr said.

Some of Burr's employees have worked for his family for over a decade, he said. One in particular has worked 33 years with the Burrs. Of his staff, Burr said, only three employees -- one retired and two were high school students -- did not join the staff at Paynesville SuperValu.

Teals said the new employees started working Feb. 2 and the transition has gone smoothly. On the other hand, she said, moving products from Joel's Family Foods has been an arduous task.

Burr said the staff at SuperValu has been very welcoming to the Joel's employees.

While the two staffs converge, Paynesville SuperValu will still face some of the same troubles it faced before as a small-town grocer.

Teals said consolidation of businesses has hampered the grocery industry for small towns.

"Supercenters have had a big effect on the grocery business," Teals said, referring to Wal-Marts or Targets that include groceries in their stores. Name recognition with wholesale suppliers is also a difficulty small-town groceries face, Teal said.

For Joel's Family Foods, Burr said, business became difficult when other downtown businesses started closing.

"When businesses around you start deteriorating, it gave people another excuse to go to the bigger towns," Burr said.

However, small grocery stores still have something supercenters or large grocery companies cannot offer, Burr said.

"Service is No. 1," Burr said about small-town groceries. " ... Here you're not a number."

Most impressive, Burr said, is that at least one employee at Paynesville SuperValu probably knows or is related to any customer that walks into the store.

"It's not too often that you can walk into a store and everybody greets you by name," Burr said.

Local grocery stores aren't just a place to buy food either, Burr said. Local groceries are also community gathering places where people socialize and catch up on local happenings.