Recipe for success: Cape Girardeau grocery store thrives on old fashioned business model
The owners of the Corner Grocery Store find ways to stay relevant, while holding on to what many of us miss about yesterday
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - It takes a lot to keep a small business alive, especially these days.
Ask any small business owner and they will likely tell you it’s not easy keeping people coming back time and time again.
At The Corner Grocery Store in Cape Girardeau, you’ll find family recipes, and something money can’t buy.
“We have met some wonderful people and plenty of these people have been with us this whole 14 years,” said Robert Gentry.
Robert and Mary Gentry are a team.
“I met this beautiful young lady a few years ago in Chicago, Illinois,” said Robert.
They will soon celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.
Robert is from Lexington, Kentucky and Mary is from Caruthersville, Missouri.
They were always familiar with Cape Girardeau as Mary’s family would frequently come to Cape Girardeau to shop.
Years ago the couple came to Cape to look at some houses.
They found one, and it’s been their home for more than 21 years now.
As far as careers go, both Mary and Robert have had other jobs.
Robert was an LPN, and Mary worked in office administration.
Plus they have always been crafters.
“We did what you call wire wrap,” said Mary Gentry. “It’s where you take gold and silver wire and you twist it to create jewelry.”
They traveled all over the Heartland and different parts of the country selling their crafts.
But, even with all of that...they always had a dream.
“I just thought it would be nice to bring a grocery store back downtown in Cape,” said Robert Gentry.
Fourteen years ago, they did just that.
They joke about how that was their retirement plan.
The Gentrys wanted to give the community something convenient.
“Like if you need an onion, or some milk, or some eggs,” said Mary Gentry.
She said it’s just easy to pop in and grab what you need if you live close by, instead of going to a larger scale store across town.
They also wanted to offer something different.
“Little did I not take into consideration that this was not 1955 or 1960 any more,” said Robert Gentry as he laughed.
When you’re at the Corner Store, even if it’s for a moment, you can transport yourself back to simpler times.
“It has that old school, yesterday effect and people enjoy that, even young folks who were not here yesterday,” said Robert.
The smells alone will bring you inside.
“It’s because it’s fresh,” said Mary.
They have fried chicken dinners, homemade chicken and dumplings, and make some of the best chocolates you’ll ever eat.
“The candy has been the wind in our sails,” said Robert.
For example, they make fresh peppermint patties, chocolate covered bacon, chocolate caramels, peanut butter delights and giant turtles.
“We take locally harvested pecans, not something you’d buy at the grocery store,” said Mary. “We roast them and we make our own caramel.”
That all leads up to their big showstopper, the Kentucky bourbon ball.
“We’ve been using Granny Josephine’s recipe, for probably about 80 years now,” said Robert.
Continuing to safely serve their customers has produced a lot of new challenges during a pandemic.
“Well it hasn’t been easy, but a lot of people take the time to support small business,” said Mary.
They believe it’s because of that personal touch, that sometimes is hard to find.
“We always said if we had our own business we were going to treat people like everyone was the best of the best, regardless of presentation,” said Robert.
“That’s what we try to do everyday,” said Mary. “No matter who you are, when you walk in the corner store, yeah you feel like you’re the most important person standing there.”
The Gentrys enjoy getting to know their customers.
They come from all walks of life and backgrounds.
As they watch current events here and around the country, like with protests for racial justice, they are glad to be an ear to those who want to talk about what’s going on.
“We let them know, hey your day started like my day started,” said Robert.
“Everyone’s the same, we all want the same things,” said Mary.
“We all want to be loved, we all want to be appreciated,” said Robert.
They say the demonstrations have opened the door for meaningful conversations.
“I think this is making all of us better, making us better people because it’s making all the people who didn’t realize it realize what’s going on and what their feelings are,” said Mary.
It’s a place to talk and laugh, and to get a warm meal or sweet treat.
It might just be what someone needs to get through the day.
“It is about the people,” said Mary.
As for the future of their little store along Broadway, the owners aren’t planning to close their door anytime soon.
They’ve learned the recipe for life isn’t full of secret ingredients.
But rather, simple truths...live well, and love well.
“We all want to think that at the end of the day, and that means really at the end of the day, you feel that you’ve lived a good life,” said Robert Gentry. “You didn’t bring any harm to anyone else and you shared and you cared.”
The Corner Store is located at 439 Broadway Street in Cape Girardeau, Mo.
For more information on their current hours of operations or daily special, check them out on Facebook.
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