Tom George has been in the grocery business in Detroit most of his life and for the last 23 years he has owned Harbortown Market on East Jefferson. He prides himself on being involved in the community, from giving teenagers in the neighborhood jobs to supporting neighboring organizations like Gleaners.
A small fire broke out in the back room of the market on June 20, 2009. While his plan was to clean up the damage and re-open in a few days, insurance adjustors forced George to shut his doors and the state health department forced him to condemn his inventory.
For the next seven months, the doors of Harbortown Market were closed. And people from the neighborhood kept knocking on the door, asking when they would be able to shop at the store again and offering words of encouragement to the employees. George was resolute in his desire to reopen the store.
“We decided to clean up the store, do a little bit of a layout change, doll it up for them and bring them back a store that was better than before it was closed,” says George.
Being shuttered for so long had George concerned. Many friends in the grocery business reminded him that once your customers found another market to shop at, getting them back as customers was tough. And since he was not open, he was not able to keep his employees on the payroll so he was concerned he would have to hire a brand new staff.
His concern about his employees turned out to be unnecessary. About a month before they reopened, he asked his head clerk Phillip Brown how many people they needed to hire.
“100 percent of the employees came back. We didn’t lose even one person, which sure made reopening easy,” he recalls.
One of the ways grocery stores typically market themselves is through direct mail, so as George was preparing to reopen Harbortown Market, he paid for a big direct mail campaign. Through an error, the direct mail flyer was never sent but George recalls that the community didn’t need the flyer.
“When the doors opened, people started coming in like crazy. It was like a love fest in here. I was getting goosebumps watching all the love coming out in here,” he says.
Business came back better than ever, all through word of mouth. All because of the community support, the same community they interacted with, gave jobs to and volunteered with throughout the years. In an effort to make sure Harbortown Market was giving back to the organizations his community felt were important, they turned to their fans on Facebook and Twitter to nominate an organization to receive a $1,000 donation from the market.
The community responded with a name familiar to George, Gleaners. And he was more than happy to make the donation.
“We left it wide open, we wanted to see who would be a good candidate to give our money to. It just happened to be Gleaners,” he notes.
As he walks around his store, talking with shoppers it’s clear that George enjoys the community Harbortown Market serves and the community enjoys their local market.