Discover more from National Road Magazine
Myer's Market: A Personal Touch
Myers’ Market is not the local grocery store of my happy childhood. This is something far, far better than that.
by Donovan Wheeler photos by Caitlin Fogle
I hold onto the vaguest of memories of the “local” butcher shop. Even then our local butcher actually worked in the back of my hometown’s IGA grocery store. In the fog of the 1970’s, when I watched my mom maneuver the aisles as I sat in those uncomfortably brutal shopping cart kiddie seats, I faintly remember listening to her make banter with the man behind the glass displays, asking for fileted cuts of steak or some half-dozen pork chops. I can still see the huge, wood-paneled wall, with the goofy Independent Grocers Association logo hanging near the arc of the gymnasium-styled ceiling. It was then, in those earliest of years when I experienced the closest thing to a local meat-cutter. By the time I had reached adulthood, the Krogers, the Walmarts, the Meijers, and box giants of that ilk had effectively replaced the man in the white apron with pre-packaged logs of beef and cellophane-encased cuts of pork. What had once been a communal experience in an intimate corner shop had become a bit of bothersome label reading in an expansive echo-chamber.
When Mitch Myers laid out his plans for his local market, he faced nearly three generations of consumers such as myself. Granted, Greencastle and other small towns had boasted little enclaves like the now-defunct Gould’s Market. But for the first decade I lived here, I had only walked through their doors once, and I had only heard the place mentioned a handful of times. We were conditioned. Among Myers’ many challenges, changing deep-seated paradigms such as mine stood paramount.
“There were days in the planning stage,” Myers tells me, “where I would wake up in the middle of the night and say, ‘This is not going to work.’ There were so many logistical hurdles…so many details that butted heads with one another. Every time I started to make progress, we would run into a snag or an unexpected cost. That can be intimidating and frightening.”
The first of those hurdles was establishing a product supply line. As his chief selling point, Myers sought out local growers who were producing traditionally fed meats, free of the industrial mass feeding made notorious by news reports and documentary films.
“We pull from local growers every chance we get,” Myers explains, “but it has been hard to find a steady, regular supply.” Compounding his infrequent stream of local meat, Myers discovered that some suppliers were “hesitant” to work with him because the small size of his operation struck them as too cost-prohibitive. Perhaps, however, that reluctance has been a boon to the business given that the farms likely to cross Myers off their list are equally as likely to grow the kind of meat he has avoided putting in his display case. To solve his early supply challenges, he turned to regional and Midwestern providers, farmers who (despite operating farther from home) still grow livestock with a commitment to quality versus rapid-fire production.
“Those big companies,” Myers says, “serve up meat that is often water-based. When you grill it, you can lose as much as 12% of its mass. That’s why the stuff you put on the grill from the big stores shrinks to nothing, and it’s why the products we offer hold their form through cooking.” Complementing his staple meats, Myers has added a range of supplementary products to the Market’s arsenal including rolls from The Beef House, Jameson coffees, organic dairy products from Trader’s Point Creamery, and arguably his most popular side products: an arrangement of syrups from Hoosier Sugar Daddy. But what neither Myers nor his early business supporters anticipated was the impact his deli meat sandwich operation would have on the business.
“When I started this,” he says, “I thought my peak seasons would be summer, spring, and fall. I was a little worried about how we were going to do when everyone put their grills up for the winter. But the deli sandwiches were a huge hit, both locally and even among many DePauw students. So not only do we hold up well through the cold months, but I can also tell you that, year-round…from about 11:00 to 2:00…we’re essentially operating as a deli.” This infusion of college students, in a town where the line demarcating the university from the rest of Greencastle at large is too often sharply delineated, has produced one of Myer’s Market’s most notable surprises: it has become one of a handful of meaningful convergence points between the city’s two sub-cultures. The fact that The Market succeeds socially as well as economically speaks well of one Myers’ first decisions.
“Why Greencastle?” Myers asks back, returning the same question I had just pitched to him. Sitting in the small dining room adjacent to the sales floor, he glances away. He already knows the answer, and I know it, too. If he wanted to, he could have canned his response, and confidently snapped it to me in an assertive sales’ voice. But a Marco Rubio auto-repeat slug line isn’t Myers’ style. If he answers the question a hundred times or a thousand, he’s going to respond authentically, conversationally, as real people do when they talk to each other.
“Because it’s home,” he says. “Right now, I’m sitting a block-and-a-half from where I grew up. This is the community I’ve always known. These are the people I’ve always known, and it just makes sense that, if you’re going to start something like this, you should do it around the people who have been a part of your life.”
“The costs are comparable,” Myers continues, tacking off his selling points. “We lack both the space and the deep pockets to stock the front of the store with the cheap, end-cap products you see in the big boxes. We can’t set up a wall of $50 microwave ovens to lure you back into the aisle next to the $200 models. But what we can give you…what we do give you…is personal attention. We get to know each customer as a person, and the more we interact with them the more we can cater our service to everyone’s personal tastes.”
When I asked Myers what he would offer as advice to any would-be entrepreneurs, he noted two things: “Trust your family,” he says. “My family has been very much a part of this, and I don’t know where I would be without them. They devoted so much of their time into making this happen, from the work and support they give me now to the almost two months’ worth of work they spent helping get this facility ready to open.”
“And don’t get discouraged…especially early on,” he adds referring to his second piece of advice. “I knew this was going to be a lot of work, but I’m not in a factory doing what someone else is telling me to do.”
As we stood outside The Market’s back door, Myers uttered those last words wearing a skillfully blended expression proclaiming both humility and pride. If you know Mitch, the description is better than fitting. He has managed to take a community almost completely brainwashed by decades of corporate marketing and has returned many of us to a time we either remember fondly or have never experienced at all. All the while, he’s done it without brandishing medals or flouting an air of greatness. It seems appropriate that, under the iconic pitch of a former Pure Oil service station—a relic of a simpler time—Mitch Myers has not only returned the eclectic feel of the small butcher shop to a community moving full-speed into the 21st century, he has also created a viable business model. Myers’ Market is not the IGA of my happy childhood. This is something far, far better than that.