Enter Hedtke's IGA in Hatley and there's one extra thing you'll come away with besides groceries, a very unique experience, newspaper clippings cover the aisles and walls, the smell of freshly cut venison is potent, and the stock boy is no boy. It's the owner, Walter Hedtke.
Wally's parents started this business back in 1914 and Wally has been working in the store for 82 years. Doesn't seem possible, right? Well, Wally got a pretty young start at the family business.
“My mother told me that when I was four years old I was ordering the cigarettes and tobacco."
That makes Wally 86 years old. He and his younger brother, 76-year-old Fred, have run the store for more than half a century. Wally, the more levelheaded one; Fred, the comedian always ready with a joke.
It had been a tavern before their father turned it into a grocery store during prohibition. Now, decades later, the brothers have almost a century of stories. Fred talks about the one time a customer took advantage of their willingness to open the store in the middle of the night for emergencies.
"I come in and only thing he bought was a pack of cigarettes. He said ‘you were cheaper than anyone else around.’"
And he loves telling about the time in the 1940's when a star of the Hatley Opera House stopped by.
"One day he put a roll of toilet paper on a broomstick and he was running up and down the aisles, ‘get your morning paper!’"
Customers may leave here with plenty of stories, but the store's specialty is what they come for, that would be the country style bacon in their meat department. Every Wednesday, Walter and Fred cut and package their own meat. It's one of the touches that would be missing if they ever sold the place, which they're trying to do.
Both Wally and Fred work long days, often 12 or 13 hours, and Wally says it's catching up with them.
"Well, I was hoping I could retire when I was 65. Now I'm 86, way past retirement.”
"If we ever get rid of it, I think I'll sort of miss talking to the people but I know it's gotta come to an end sometime."
But they're having a hard time finding a buyer. Wally says there's not much of a future in small-town grocery stores because of bigger super stores in nearby towns.
"Eventually, if we can't sell it, we'd probably have to close it up, but we hate to do that because the town really needs this store.”
And the people of Hatley really need Wally and Fred.
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