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Gartners decide it's time to slow down...

“It’s time,” is how Arlen Gartner explained the sale of Gartner’s Jack & Jill.

2/11/20 (Tue)

“It’s time,” is how Arlen Gartner explained the sale of Gartner’s Jack & Jill.

The official change of ownership will take place Thursday when the store will be turned over to the owners of Jack & Jill stores in Ray and Watford City.

After nearly 44 years of grocery store ownership, and years before that working in grocery stores and for his parents, Gartner and his wife Elaine, are going to slow down and take life a little easier.

“It’s going to take some time to relax, this is all we’ve ever done,” Gartner said. “We wanted to sell to somebody who will do the right thing and strive to keep the store open.”

Elaine added, “We didn’t know if the opportunity would come up again.”

Inventory will be taken on Thursday and KJJ, LLC, doing business as Kenmare Jack & Jill, will become the owner. The store will remain open during the inventory.

Arlen Gartner said the name Gartner’s Jack & Jill will remain in place for the foreseeable future and Jack & Jill representative Ken Jedneark confirmed that the name will remain the same.

“They tell us things will run the same,” Arlen Gartner said. “But, you know, there will always be changes.”

Gartner has been exposed to the grocery business his entire life. His parents owned grocery stores in Upham and Garrison before coming to Kenmare.

He began working for his parents when they owned the Piggly Wiggly store in Kenmare. They owned that store from 1963 to 1973 and Arlen took over ownership in 1976 when he was just 22 years old.

“It’s been 44 years. It doesn’t seem like 44 years,” he said. “We also owned the locker plant for 10 years.”

Elaine, who came on board in 1988 added, he became the store manager at 21, said he would own a store by 25 and actually became owner at 22.

However, in that span of time, in addition to the locker plant, the Gartner’s had stores in Bowbells, Stanley and Mott, in addition to Kenmare.

“Looking back at the locker plant, that was a lot of work, but we had dedicated people,” Arlen said. “We don’t know how this is going to go. It’s scary.”

Elaine said it’s the socializing with people that she is going to miss the most.

“There’s a meaning to the friendly store,” she said. “People, like I said, it’s what we’ll miss.”

Arlen added, “This store is not just about Kenmare. It’s the whole region and out-of-state hunters and all the employees we’ve had. They’re a great part of the store. They were here to help us make the store. It takes everybody.”

He said there is no way they would have been able to support community efforts without the support of the employees in the store.

“We’ve always been involved in the community, from catering to other things,” he said. “The catering will continue with the churches and the schools. We’ve had Dollars for Scholars, the sportsmen’s banquet, the Envirothon, Eco Days. We’ll keep doing it, that way it won’t take people away from the store.”

There’s also the rec board, Jaycees, Goosefest, the hospital board and there was even a period of time when Arlen was the Honker wrestling coach.

“These are things I just couldn’t say no to,” he said. “There are so many things we have in common such as the ambulance, the park board and the pool.”

According to Elaine, the employees have always stepped up if she or Arlen had someplace to go. Sometimes, however, one of them had to stay back, for instance when Arlen has gone on ambulance runs.

This isn’t something the Gartners are just going to walk away from. Physically, they will, but their memories are too intense.

But for now...

“He can go golfing every day,” Elaine said. “I would like to do some traveling. The girls and I can go to Tulsa to visit Gloria (Lagorin).”

Elaine is looking forward to going to a Cher concert in Fargo in April, Arlen says he has to take care of the golf course.

He is also serious about going on the golfing circuit. He wants to golf the Bully Pulpit in Medora and Red Mike near Ray.

The sale has been in the works since October. Arlen said there were a couple of others who showed an interest but backed out.

He said he can only hope the new owners will be involved in the community like they have been.

The Gartner’s would be remiss if they didn’t mention that in their career, they’ve had their share of rough spots, wiggled out of them and have succeeded.

“We’ve gone through our hard times and I don’t think it hurt us,” Elaine said. Arlen added, “People forget we’ve had tough times and we know what it’s like.”

One of the things the Gartners have always done is add humor to their work day. Everyone in Kenmare knows the Gartners have worked a lot of long days, but putting humor into their day and their employees’ day, makes it much better.

They reflected on some of their most hilarious moments.

“I sold Joe Staael his own grill,” Arlen said. “I took it out of his yard and sold it back to him.”

He added, “We’re always trying to have some fun. It isn’t strictly business.”

Elaine said some friends gave them a toy rat that has shown up in the most unusual places.

There’s also the “man” they put out for Halloween that shows up in the cooler or bathroom. She explained that one day the “man” was in the cooler when the Pepsi representative arrived with new product, scaring the dickens out of him.

“So, we’ve had some fun,” Elaine said. “Some days it’s so silly, it’s a good way to get the day going.”

This wasn’t a funny moment at the time, but Arlen lost a full beef off the back of his pickup.

“I went around a corner and one slid out,” he said. “It had to be noon and it was right by the elementary school. I had to get the city up there to lift it back on.”

There’s also the coffee crowd, a group of people that normally gets together early in the morning. They tell jokes and rib each other.

The Gartners also have leadership qualities that transcend the aisles of the grocery store.

“I don’t have the employees do anything I won’t do,” Arlen said. “We try to teach employees values too.”

Elaine added, “It’s fun when former employees come back to see us and say thanks. It’s nice to see if they learned something from being in the store.”

According to Arlen, the store has some real loyal customers, and it means a lot when it comes to the bottom line.

“When you’re in business like us, you have to love your community, your employees, your customers,” he said. “We’ve always told the employees, ‘carry their groceries out, help them out’ because without them (customers), they wouldn’t have a paycheck.”

They both agreed that the employees are like an extended family.

The Gartners have involved immediate family members in their endeavor as well. Their kids and grandchildren have either worked in the store, or helped out on occasion.

According to Elaine, the grandkids have had fun in the store and they were upset when they were told the store has been sold, so much so that one of them didn’t want to leave the building.

“They all like to work in the store until they’re a certain age,” Arlen added.

Arlen sometimes worries about the community giving the new management a chance. Oscar Ayala, who has been employed for a number of years, will be the new store manager.

“He has a lot of good employees working right there with him,” Arlen said. “It’s a big step for him. It’s a big responsibility.”

The Gartners will continue to volunteer with the Gift of Love program at Christmas time and they still own both buildings with a lease on the store and a partial lease on the warehouse. In addition, the Gartners and their family will continue the fireworks sales leading up to the 4th of July.

Both Arlen and Elaine have been named Grocer of the Year through the North Dakota Grocers Association.

“They don’t realize how much she does,” Arlen said. “Elaine’s done a lot of stuff here.”

Elaine jokingly added, she likes to stay behind the scenes when doing her work.

The Gartners both admit they are going to miss the people they have seen daily, weekly or monthly for the past four decades. Arlen said he will also miss the store itself. He said you get to know the smells and the sounds well over the years.

“Our best memory is people, taking care of people,” Arlen said. “But we’re not leaving. We’re staying here. The most fun thing is doing business. I love doing business and taking care of people. And I love the produce sale.”

Arlen will stay on about a year to make a smooth transition.

Arlen and Elaine will have been married 47 years in August, have been dating since the seventh grade and were married at 19.

“In the seventh grade there were two Ski-Doos in town and she had one of them,” Arlen said. “I didn’t like the other girl.” ... Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!