WAHOO – The last day of business for Wahoo Super will be Friday, June 7. The grocery store in downtown Wahoo is closing.
The trio of owners say it is time, for several reasons. But they also agree their store has always been about more than just groceries.
“It’s always been the people. That’s been the goal,” Rex Kumpula said. “Our customers have been great, very loyal.”
Hank Vice agreed that community has always been important.
“We had a lot of fun and good customers these 20 years,” he said.
Rex and his wife, Diane, and Vice opened Wahoo Super June 19, 1999.
Hank had been working at the grocery store under the previous owners. But, he and Rex had known each other.
“Rex and I worked together at Super K. I was the food store manager and Rex was an assistant,” he said.
Hank said when he heard about the opportunity to buy the grocery store in Wahoo, he knew he had to call up his friend.
“I said what this store needed was local people running it,” he added.
The trio have been working together at the store ever since. But, a lot has changed in the 20 years since Wahoo Super opened.
The Kumpulas are ready to retire.
“I’m 67 and I’ve got two flat feet,” Rex said.
He said he is really going to miss the grocery business and the people, but it is time for him to retire.
Diane is just shy of retirement age, but she too said she would like to slow down.
“I have not had a summer off since my daughter was born and she is going to be 37,” she said.
The owners have their scheduled times at the store, still there are things that require attention all the time.
“Every single day, there is something that has to be done,” she added.
For Hank, the grocery business is all he has ever known. He got his first job wrapping meat at a grocery store in Louisville when he was 8 years old.
But managing a grocery store is no longer an option for him because of a life changing car crash he was in last July. Therapy and doctor visits still continue for him and he has lost some of the mobility in one of his legs.
He said he has come to terms with “the old me and the new me.” Still, it was hard news about six weeks ago when the doctors told him he would not to be able to return to work at the store.
“That was really hard to hear,” he said.
The owners tried to find someone to buy the local grocery store, but there were no takers.
Diane said the grocery business has changed over the years. With other types of stores now offering groceries too, it definitely has become a tougher market.
The decision was then made to close Wahoo Super.
Hank said they have been trying to work with employees and offer assistance as they look for other jobs.
“We’ve extended all the help we can. We’ll help call with a reference or call somebody,” he said.
The store has employed 35 to 50 people over the years.
“We’ve had a great group of employees,” Diane said.
She said many of the employees have become like family to them and one another. She pointed out that several teen employees became couples and later married.
Wahoo Super has been a place where teens could get a job stocking shelves or working the checkouts.
Diane said it was always important to recognize this was most likely their first job.
“We wanted them to learn responsibility and when we hired them, we always taught them about courtesy,” she said. When you see a customer in the aisle, you always greet them and you always look them in the eye.”
That was the same philosophy that the owners always took with customers and relates to the notion that the business was about people and the community.
Wahoo Super has made donations to many groups, organizations, schools and charities over the years.
Rex said it was important to be a part of the community and help it thrive.
“We always felt we wanted to give back,” he said.
Diane agreed. She said doing things that benefited the community benefited the business too.
“It helps both ways,” she added.
The store has had a receipt collection program going for many years.
Diane said some organizations still may have receipts not turned back in for a donation yet. The store will honor those through May 20 and pro rate the donation amount.
Discounts are going on now to help clear the shelves and the stock room. The last truck arrived last week with stock. Diane said no more orders will be made.
As the shelves continue to get empty, the reality of the last days of the grocery store are sure to set in for the owners. There are no regrets.
“It’s been wonderful to be a part of this community. We’re proud of what we’ve done,” Hank said.
Hank, who continues to live in the Elmwood-Murdock area, will still come to Wahoo. He said he is in process of buying the building and plans to continue his food catering from the deli area.
“That is still something I can do because I can pace myself,” he said.
The Kumpulas, who live in Wahoo, will continue to take part in community events as well.
All three of the owners thanked their customers and the community as a whole for the support the past two decades.
Hank agreed they have had some very good customers. He said he has had customers tell him they will not buy groceries from other stores in town now that Wahoo Super is closing.
“But I encourage them to support your stores in town. They need to support local business,” he said.
He said life changes but community is always important.