Chester’s Thriftway owners Bob and Kay Cowan-Thompson opened a new addition to their grocery store in late June: a variety department.
Shelves are stocked with a wide array of household goods, apparel, fabric, crafts, toys and more.
Operations manager Bill Wyllie, who’s worked at Chester’s for 34 years, said they are still seeking input from customers to guide their future purchases.
Variety store manager Grant Way has worked at the store for 11 years. He said that if people don’t see what they’re looking for that they should let him or one of the other staff members know.
“We’re trying to meet the needs of the community and order things that they request, if available,” Way said.
Wyllie said their top selling products, so far, have been home and office supplies and crafts.
Apparel is also in high demand because the community is so far away from any clothing stores, he said. Shoppers will find everything from flannel shirts to Dickie’s jeans to Hane’s socks for the entire family.
Clothing, home decor and University of Oregon and Oregon State University merchandise are within view when people walk down the ramp nearest the checkout stations in the grocery store.
Shoppers access the variety department through the grocery store. They also take their items to the grocery store section to check out.
The fabric, sewing, craft and toy sections of the department can be seen as shoppers walk down a second ramp, which is near the meat department.
One lady traveled from Burns to purchase fabric, Wyllie said. The bolts include cotton, fleece, sherpa, satin, lace, vinyl and more, and Heather Swank helps cut the needed amount at the counter in that section of the department.
Variety department associate Jennifer Silva said working in the crafting area of the store inspires her with project ideas.
“We have a lot of kids crafts, adults’ crafts and a beautiful floral section ... paints and art supplies,” she said.
She added crafters may enjoy making holiday wreaths, and they have all the supplies, including styrofoam forms.
Other items in the store include a dollar aisle, kitchen and bath linens and small appliances.
One aisle is already set up with items for Christmas, with some Halloween and Thanksgiving selections on the next aisle over.
When asked how he made the decision to open the variety department, Bob said Kay was a main influence.
“My wife felt it was needed,” he said. “Kay just kept pushing. It’s worked well.”
After King’s Variety Store closed its doors in the John Day Plaza in the spring of 2017, the impact of that vacancy was felt, Wyllie said.
“We wanted to stop that cascade effect” with people moving away, he said. Six to eight jobs were created with the opening of the department.
“I was very excited that we decided to invest in it, because it’s investing in our community,” he said.
The 23 Thirftway stores in Oregon are independently owned, Bob said. He said, while a couple have hardware stores, the John Day location is the first to have a variety store.
The Cowan-Thompsons have owned Chester’s since 2001, and the store has been at it’s current location since 1972.
Wyllie said their No. 1 motto for the store is offering friendly service and being community involved.
“We try to get involved in the community and contribute $30,000-40,000 back in the community, because it’s where we live,” he said.
He said they also strive to make it the “best place to work.”
“We pay every employee well over minimum wage,” he said, noting $12 per hour is their minimum pay rate.
“We take really good care of our employees with health and dental,” he added.
Wyllie, who is a retired National Guardsman, said he was grateful to the company for allowing him to stay employed while serving in the military for 28 years.
Dan Gourley, who’s worked at Chester’s for seven years, said he enjoys helping customers in the variety department.
“I’m learning something new every day,” he said. “I’m always asking people what they’d like to see in the store. It’s a work in progress — we’re working on that list.”
Chester’s is open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, closed for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
For more information call 541-575-1899.