Friday, March 28, 2014

TOP STORY >> Salvage grocers share the ‘gravy’

Leader staff writer

Wild West Salvage Grocery at 215 S. Redmond Road in Jacksonville has been serving a great need in this struggling economy since it opened in August, owners Karen and Alan West say.

Although the store is for-profit, there is much more to it than meets the eye.

Karen West said, “We get what we need and, if there is any gravy on top, we share it because that is how we were raised.”

“We like to help people,” she said. So the store donates any extras it has to local food pantries. It has even helped individuals who came in to shop.

The couple gave a cart of groceries to a man who came in and said he lost his job but needed to feed his children.

They also covered a 50-cent can of tomato juice this reporter forgot to grab and purchase with her first set of discounted goods at no charge.

The 6,000- to 6,500- square-foot store, housed in a 13,500-square-foot building, is open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It accepts credit cards, debit cards and food stamps.

Prices are based on what the owners pay, the Wests said. For example, the store only makes 3 or 4 cents on a can of vegetables, according to Karen West.

“It’s still good food, and it’s cheap,” she continued.

The salvage grocery orders products from Tyson and receives things that have been discontinued or things from wrecked trucks that big-box places made an insurance claim on and couldn’t sell for legal reasons.

Some items are close to out of date. But, Karen West said, “We try to weed through everything.”

She added that shoppers should use their own judgment, especially when it comes to nonperishable goods with “best by” dates.

Karen West said some of the food with an expired “best buy” date may have lost freshness but is still fine to eat.

Other things, like crackers, will be stale, she noted. Karen West said, “You have to use your own head.”

For 10 years, Alan West used the location as an auction house, but business slowed, and his auctioneering experience sparked an idea.

“If you’ve never been to a food auction, that’s something to see,” he explained. “Everybody’s got to eat.”

But Karen West said there is more to it than that. “He loves to help people,” she said. “He has a soft heart. Sometimes I tell him it’s too big.”

So far that heart has paid off. Business is booming, the owners said.

Karen West said, “It’s going good. We’re growing.”

She said the store stays busy, so much so that the couple has trouble keeping it stocked.

Alan West said, “It’s been overwhelming to me, the people who come in to shop.”

He explained, “We didn’t know there was going to be so much demand.”