Blake Bynum has been in the grocery industry most of his life. The owner of Foodtown (or the “Merc” as many locals call it) in Cedaredge praises the community and his staff that is like a family for his and his family’s success.
The Bynum family moved to the Western Slope from Colorado Springs and opened a grocery store in Delta years ago. But that’s not where the family businesses started.
Blake is a third generation grocer. His grandfather had a grocery store in Oklahoma and eventually ended up in Colorado Springs. His parents — Roger and Barb Bynum — owned a store in Colorado Springs, but wanted to get out of the big city and raise a family which brought them to the Western Slope.
Roger and Barb bought a Safeway that was for sale in Delta and that became Delta Super (Delta Foodtown). The store was where Sissons Feed and Ranch is today.
In 1998, Roger and Barb Bynum along with partners Pat and Jerry Ford opened up the grocery store in Cedaredge — Cedaredge Mercantile. About 10 years ago, Blake and his wife Danielle bought the Cedaredge Foodtown from Blake’s parents. About 12 years ago, Roger and Barb retired and sold the Delta store.
Blake has been hands-on with the business for years, but it was a tough decision to make when it came to taking over the business knowing what it takes to stay afloat. Now, his wife does bookkeeping for the store and their three children — Kortlain, Rylan and Nolan — help in the store as they can.
“Like so many other businesses, chains have taken over everything from clothing stores to electronic stores to gas stations,” Blake said. “This world always changes. Now, we’re not always competing against chains, we’re competing against e-commerce — Amazon, Target.com and all that, that are sent to people’s houses. That takes away sales from us and the community as far as sales tax and supporting local jobs.”
The grocery industry has changed dramatically with technology, Blake said. It used to be a “blood, sweat and tears” industry and now it’s technology driven. This includes things like self check outs and other things that streamline and keep costs down.
When he started, prices were placed on items using ink and stamps. Then there was a price sticker gun and now it’s scanned. It saves a lot of time for those who stock the shelves and it is helpful, he added. The drawback is the price of the equipment, and it is always changing and needing an upgrade.
When they can, they buy local produce such as Mountain Fresh in Olathe for sweet corn. Talbott Farms for peaches. Koza Farms for other produce.
“Even though they may cost a bit more… I get local to keep that options for locals to continue buying local,” Blake said. “If we don’t, these places could potentially go out of business.”
Alongside local produce, there is an area of the store where you can find local art and other hand-made items. There is also a very popular deli, a bakery and event a branch for Delta County Federal Credit Union.
In the morning, there is a group of regulars who come in to enjoy coffee. During lunchtime, there are regulars who come often. Many of these regulars are small business owners themselves, Blake said, which he said they value tremendously.
Everyday there is a lunch special and a dinner special. Blake said they are most known for their fried chicken and chicken fried steak.
Karrie Cox, is the supervisor of the Deli department, and as Blake says, she is taking this department to the next level. Blake highlighted her work ethic and the tight ship she runs all while working with what the employees need.
“Previous to Karrie, we always just did the basics,” Blake said. “She has really elevated it to the point to where it’s almost restaurant style food at a fast food pace. The quality, the taste, quite a bit of it. Our dinner specials are made from scratch. I think you can say the same thing mostly about the lunch, it’s all made in house.”
Their tight-knit, great employees is what makes the store what it is, Blake said. Some have been working there for over 20 years.
John Andersen, the store manager, has been at this location since day one. The current butcher John Norman was the butcher in Delta. Other longtime employees include: scanning coordinator, Betty Jo Ness; head cashier Dina Mcewen; produce manager Brain Rigby; and Doug Van Tassell.
“Being personable with them,” Blake said of retaining his employees. “It’s almost like a family atmosphere. I know about all of their kids, grand kids. We treat each other like that. … We love every one of them. We’re there through thick and thin with each other.”
When he first took over, he would work 5 a.m. — 7 p.m., learning the trade and working hard. Now it’s a pleasant place to be having strong department managers and hard working merchandisers behind them. This takes some weight off his shoulders, Blake said.
The majority of people who come in the store, the staff either knows their name or their background. There is a “business friendship” that has developed between the community members and the store. They will share how they are feeling about the service had, their politics and more — which Blake enjoys.
“Both employees and customers feel like they are part of something. Something bigger than themselves,” Blake said.
Being in a small community has been beneficial, Blake said, because everyone likes to help each other out. They do their best to keep the quality high but at an affordable cost.
“It’s been a blessing for us as a family,” Blake said. “I enjoy it.” Adding that he enjoys coming in every day.
During COVID this tight-knit crew and community was a big help.
Prior to COVID, the store did their stocking during regular business hours three times a week. The size of their deliveries drastically nearly doubled in size. They had customers coming in from as far as Grand Junction looking for hard to find items like meat, toilet paper and more.
There was even a point when they had to break up a fight over meat — that person had come in from Grand Junction.
“We did most of stocking was done overnight so there was less direct contact with customers,” Blake said. “We had a good number of very close family and friends that pitched in and helped during COVID when it all first started.”
The was “a zoo in here” when COVID hit. There was so much that was unknown, Blake recalled. They did their best to follow procedures that were coming out from the health department. Because of all this, they had decided to do the stocking at night.
During this time, they did not lose any employees to COVID. In fact, Blake said, they stepped up and wanted to work more for the community. The staff at the store started getting a bit worn down, Blake recalled. Luckily spring is a bit slower and they got a break.
With COVID numbers a bit high, Blake said he is not looking forward to dealing with it again. This round seems stronger and that could cause problems, he added.
“I hope it bypasses Cedaredge. I hope it bypasses Delta County. I hope it bypasses our country,” Blake said.
He’s hoping that having gone through everything before, this time there would be more communication and they are more knowledgeable in how to address it.
Soon, FoodTown will go to an online platform, Rosie, to order groceries for pick up. The hope is to have this available sometime in October. They have also offered home delivery for about 20 years, and this is done over the phone. Blake handles these deliveries himself.
This is all about serving the community. FoodTown does its best to donate to causes and organizations.
“We will do anything we can for this community,” Blake said. “Because without the community, we aren’t here.”
For more information, visit cedaredgefoodtown.com or call 970-856-3151.