Sunday, October 15, 2000

Ex-grocer delivers to elderly

        Ed Beighle was a grocer until Wal-Mart killed his business. But he still has what Wal-Mart never will: personal concern for people.

        Every Wednesday, the 78-year-old makes his rounds among elderly neighbors in Williamstown, Ky. They call in their orders to a local store, and Mr. Beighle e delivers the groceries for free.

        These days he does it out of kindness. But for 35 years, personal service was his business strategy.

Store closes
               Mr. Beighle and his brothers owned the IGA in Dry Ridge, which offered home delivery to shut-ins. Then a Wal-Mart Supercenter opened last year. Most of the Beighle brothers were at retirement age, anyway, so they threw in the towel.

        Wal-Mart's prices were impossibly low, Mr. Beighle says. He recalls 27 cents for a pound of bananas, for instance. IGA carried them at 39 cents, which was just above cost.

        “It was an attractive new store. They had bargain prices. I can't fault the public,” says Mr. Beighle, whose gentle drawl is laced with good humor. “If they can get a can of beans for 5 cents less, you expect them to do that.”

        The brothers had a going-out-of business sale and closed their doors. But Mr. Beighle's sense of responsibility remained.

        What would become of the elderly women who depended on his deliveries?

        “I couldn't see just dropping them and saying, "I'm sorry, you'll just have to fend for yourself,'” Mr. Beighle says.

Tradition continues
               So he kept on helping. Once a week, 11 women place their orders with Bruce's Grocery in Mason, Ky. Mr. Beighle picks up the items and drives them to their homes.

        The women call him “Mr. Ed.” They try to offer tips, but he politely declines.

        “He's a wonderful man,” says Evelyn Mulvey, 87. “He said he worried about the older people who wouldn't be able to get groceries. He's like that. He worries about people.”

        When the Supercenter opened, the Beighles closed both their IGA and their Dry Ridge General Store. Another source for home deliveres, the Foodworld in Williamstown, also closed.

        Mr. Beighle's continued service saved some of the women from panic, Ms. Mulvey says. She considers it a welcome alternative to reliance on family members.

        “I like to do my own thing,” she says. “I'm a very independent old woman.”

        While she heaps praise on Mr. Beighle, he's predictably modest. I called him for insight into Wal-Mart's effect on small businesses. Halfway through the conversation, he happened to mention home deliveries.

        “I don't have anything to brag about,” he says, “but I try to live a Christian life, and I think this is part of Christianity.”

        Wal-Mart has every right to blockbuster sales. But Mr. Beighle can't help questioning which is more the American way: One company driving out competition, then taking advantage of its monopoly, or several small companies keeping one another hopping.

        He makes a point of getting his neighbors' groceries at Bruce's, an independent store that's not as close as the new Wal-Mart.

        With a smile in his voice, he explains:

        “I don't have a grudge against Wal-Mart, but it would probably be a cold day in July before I'd go there and buy anything.”



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