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Richardton's hometown store: Springfield Market nears 1-year anniversary

Press Photo by Katherine Lymn Richardton resident Mandi Elkins shops at Springfield Market Feb. 13 with two-year-old daughter Carley. She said she used to travel to Dickinson for groceries before the local market opened.1 / 2
Press Photo by Katherine Lymn Springfield Market store manager Chris Beckler, shown in the seating area of the store Feb. 13, discusses how business has been since the store opened nearly a year ago.2 / 2

RICHARDTON -- In an unassuming small building off Interstate 94 in Richardton, the Springfield Market is an unexpected cornucopia of fresh and unique foods for southwest North Dakotans.

The store has been open nearly a year and has grown at a manageable pace, with little surprises along the way -- the demand for gluten-free items, for example. But the store is more than a place to buy groceries for those in town or passing through; the dining area serves as a coffee shop atmosphere of sorts, where customers catch up with each other and employees.

Customers are often surprised by the size of the store. It has a full bakery, deli and a frozen section that takes up the whole back wall of the store.

Owner Tanja Goellner is from Richardton, though she lives in Fargo now and visits the store once a week.

“When I get out there, I like to dive in and do a little bit of everything, I guess, from making things at the deli to cashiering,” she said. “It’s different everyday.”

Business for the grocery store -- the first in town for a few years, since the last grocery store turned into a diner -- is healthy.

“We have had wonderful support from the community and we are on budget for what we predicted,” Goellner said.

Store manager Chris Beckler’s also a born-and-raised Richardtonian, but the opening of Springfield Market brought him home after three decades away, working for another grocery chain and then for Neiman Marcus and an ad agency in the Twin Cities.

“The itch to get back to the grocery business was there,” he said, “so here I am.”

Bright and clean

A common reaction when a person walks into the Springfield Market is surprise -- in a good way.

“I don’t think that they were expecting this,” Beckler said of locals’ first reactions.

“The first time they walk in, they find it hard to believe that it’s this big … I think they’re expecting two to three grocery aisles,” he said.

Cashier Janice Praus said by the time customers reach her at the checkout, “they’re hooked.”

As the store nears its one-year anniversary in March, business is strong and growth is occurring at a pace the store can handle.

“We continue to watch our business increase at a nice pace so that we can react to it as opposed to we’re running out of shopping carts,” Beckler said.

“It’s been a nice steady growth.”

The store has noticed a demand for gluten-free products, which Beckler said he’s been working hard to stock. He’s also seen a need to stock gourmet items like prosciutto ham and mascarpone cheese.

“It’s really surprising, and I think some of that’s got to do with the influx of people,” Beckler said.

“Twenty years ago, you wouldn’t sell mustard greens or collard greens in a grocery store ( in North Dakota),” he said. “Now you do.”

And the store’s always open to stocking new products at a customer’s request.

“I like that if they don’t have something, they’ll order it,” said customer Mandi Elkins, who shopped at the store one day earlier this month with daughter, Carley.

Elkins said she was excited when she first heard about the new store, as now she only has a 10-minute drive to shop.

After all, before the market opened, most of Richardton’s estimated 600-some residents would shop for groceries in Dickinson or Bismarck.

Owner Goellner had worked for Microsoft for a decade before opening the market. It was the “dire need” for a grocery store that brought her back to her hometown and into the grocery business.

“They would drive to Dickinson for all their groceries, sometimes maybe they would go to Hebron, which has a smaller grocery store, but the problem that they would run into is … if you need a head of lettuce, who wants to drive 23 miles for a head of lettuce – one way?” Beckler said.

Looking ahead, Beckler said the store is settling in and now looking at how to “empower” its approximately 25 employees more with communication to customers.

“At first it was a matter of getting it on the shelf and getting the doors open,” he said. “Now it’s a matter of, ‘How do we empower to our associates, our employees, to communicate to the customer what’s new out there, what they should try?’”

A ‘social place’

The store also includes a dining-in area, with art adorning the walls and bright sun hitting the tables.

Employees say they see the morning coffee crowd, which turns into a lunch crowd and even a dinner crowd.

The large population of oilfield and related service workers doesn’t generally cook, Beckler said, “so they come in here to get their breakfast items -- we’re known far and wide for our breakfast sandwiches” or lunch or dinner.

Deli manager Sheila Reller said the prepared food options vary day-to-day, from meatballs to chicken pot pie to Mexican dishes.

“Sometimes they will take it and they will eat it here, sometimes they take it home,” Beckler said.

“We provide the option of them not having to eat in their vehicle or (if) you have to drive a distance, by the time you get home it’s cold,” he said.

Beckler also uses the dining area to connect with customers, many of whom he knows by name.

He said it’s a form of appreciating them -- greeting them by name or buying them coffee.

And the familiarity with customers extends beyond the store manager.

Cashier Billie Jo Whidden said the market is a “social place” for the town.
“I moved here and didn’t know anyone,” she said. “Now I know just about the whole town.”