Chamber Profile: Grocery business has been a longtime passion for Watertown owner

MarketPlace Foods owner Jim May takes Watertown Mayor Charlotte Johnson and City Administrator Luke Fischer on a tour of his store, including this storage area, last month. May purchased the Watertown grocery store in 2009 along with his business partner, Dan Wagner. (Staff photo by Matt Bunke)

MarketPlace Foods owner Jim May takes Watertown Mayor Charlotte Johnson and City Administrator Luke Fischer on a tour of his store, including this storage area, last month. May purchased the Watertown grocery store in 2009 along with his business partner, Dan Wagner. (Staff photo by Matt Bunke)

Jim May’s passion for the grocery business dates all the way back to his high school days.

That’s when the owner of Watertown’s Marketplace Foods first began working in grocery stores, stocking shelves. He later went to school in Pipestone, where he got his grocery degree through a grocery management and merchandising course.

May spent much of his career working for SuperValu, also working for both Cub Foods and Rainbow along the way. At one point, he left the industry for 15 years to work in construction carpentry, another longtime passion of his.

In 2008, however, May got back into the grocery business, a place he felt he always belonged.

“It got to the point in my life where I got to be 50 years old, and I decided that construction was just getting too hard on my body,” he said. “I decided to get back into retail grocery, which I always loved, because I always loved working around people.”

Many people in Watertown are certainly glad that May did decide to get back into the grocery business. The city was close to losing its store when May purchased it in December 2009, along with his business partner, Dan Wagner. May had previously helped Wagner open a store in Pine Island in 2008 for Wagner’s son to eventually take over, but the pair wanted to find a store for May to run as well.

“On my first trip to Watertown, I looked at the visual appeal of Watertown, and that’s what really sold me,” May said. “Just my whole first experience in Watertown was very good. I just felt like I should be here, we made the deal, and the rest is history.”

Since taking over the store, May and Wagner have poured a lot of money into improvements to the store, on top of recent improvements that had already been made by store’s previous owners.

Most recently, the refrigerated dairy cases have all been replaced with new, energy efficient LED lighted displays that May says not only save electricity, but also display the products in a better light. Previously, the dairy items were presented in a 36-foot display of open shelving, but now are in cases with doors.

“That’s what a lot of stores have, but everybody is going to energy efficient these days, so we put in the doors,” he said. “It’s all LED, state of the art. It also has a lower profile so you can get more in there.”

The new dairy cases came after new freezer cases for smoked meet that were installed soon after May bought the store. Next on the wish list for May is new produce shelving for the front of the store, including a refrigerated center island. May hopes to have the new produces cases installed by June.

May said he hopes the improvements to the store convey that he is serious about providing a quality store in Watertown, and added that he sees himself retiring from this current job.

“We’re here for the duration,” he said. “We’re re-investing, and trying to make it a better shopping experience.”

Not only has May strived to make improvements to his store, but he’s also been very active in trying to promote the local community since coming to Watertown. He served as the president of the Chamber of Commerce last year, he’s been active in the Watertown Lions Club, and he’s also been heavily involved in promoting shows at the Performing Arts Center for the Fine Arts Council.

“It gave me the opportunity to get out in the community and meet people,” he said. “By joining different organizations, you’re helping the organizations along with yourself in getting to know people and developing relationships that benefit yourself and your personal life.”

Contact Matt Bunke at matt.bunke@ecm-inc.com

 
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