Grocery veterans decided to do it on their own in Jackson

woodlandhills_McDades_rgbOlder customers may still call their local grocery store “Sunflower” or “Jitney” but Greg and Kathy McDade don’t mind.

The Arkansas-born couple has operated the McDade’s Markets grocery chain in central Mississippi since 1996 when they sold everything they had to buy the old Sunflower grocery at Jackson’s Maywood Mart.

“I’m the pessimist, Kathy’s the optimist,” Greg says. “She was the head cashier and I was the stocker.”

Today, that store is bright, clean and bustling. Narrow aisles are packed with produce all the way to the ceiling and real, live cashiers wait with price scanners in hand to check out customers.

Just around the corner, the McDade’s at English Village in Jackson’s historic Belhaven neighborhood is packed at lunch with construction workers and nurses. At their Woodland Hills location, a vintage Jitney Jungle “Happy Shopper” cartoon smiles down on all who drive into the parking lot.

“Every store has its own history,” Kathy says, adding that she isn’t offended by references to former competitors. “We had Kmart come and go… Albertsons, Brookshire’s.” She says customers are just glad their neighborhood grocery store is still open and family-owned and operated.

Greg says the independent grocery business is on the rise and as construction begins on a new Whole Foods Market superstore across the street, McDade’s is counting on their quality produce and hometown service to keep customers coming back.

“It’s not gonna hurt us near what I thought it was. You can’t go to Whole Foods and get hotdogs or Charmin bathroom tissue,” Greg says. “We knew they were coming. I’d rather Whole Foods be there than another independent grocer or a Kroger.”

“They are just another competitor,” Kathy says. “We have the best customers in the world and we cater to them. You can’t have a cookie cutter store. You gotta sell what the customers want.”

Whether it’s a neighborhood customer who comes to the deli every week for the lasagna special or one from across town that’s just running in for a case of Abita Strawberry Harvest, Greg said he feels confident all the stores will maintain that vibrant customer base.

Another thing that sets McDade’s Markets apart from its competitors is the store’s commitment to the communities it operates in.

Greg is an active Rotarian and member of the Associated Wholesale Grocers, a national co-op that includes grocery families across Mississippi. The Louisiana Tech graduate picked groceries over a career in forestry and energy and frequently preaches good customer service to his employees. He practices what he preaches and is not above mopping a floor or personally delivering specially-ordered items to a customer’s home.

Kathy gained early management experience working in bank offices and law firms and today is heavily involved in Executive Women International and is president of the Mississippi Hospitality Beverage Association. It is a natural fit for Kathy, who turned a vacant space next to the Maywood Mart store into McDade’s Wine & Spirits in 2000.

“We knew nothing about the industry but we got help from retail distributors and others in the industry,” she says. While McDade’s doesn’t sell wine and liquor in their grocery stores, recent legislation raising the alcohol content in beer has boosted sales to the point that they are adding newer brands every month.

McDade’s also pushes locally-grown products in their stores from Brandon honey to Kosciusko pepper jelly to Vardaman potatoes. In anticipation of Whole Foods they have introduced some organic products like milk and produce.

Whether it’s supporting the Belhaven Farmer’s Market at their English Village store or providing meat products to tornado victims in Yazoo City and Smithville, McDade’s is ever ready to support their customers in good times and bad. Kathy says working with neighborhood associations and chambers of commerce is a must in helping spread the word about their businesses.

While Greg says they have no immediate plans to expand McDade’s Markets in Jackson, he is looking forward to future projects like the Mississippi Grocery Access Taskforce. The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi program wants state lawmakers to approve a $10 million seed fund so stores like McDade’s could invest and build in so-called “food deserts” in Mississippi, communities that lack a local grocery store.

“We wanna give people a great place to shop.” Greg says. “I’ve always wanted to own my own business. I just do my thing. I’ve never been one to be in the spotlight.”

 

More on McDade’s

1996 Maywood Mart store opens in Jackson

2000 McDade’s Wine & Spirits opens at Maywood Mart

2004 Woodland Hills store opens in Jackson

2005 English Village store opens on Fortification Street in Jackson

2006 Westland Plaza store opens in Jackson

2012 First McDade’s Market in Yazoo City opens

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