'The dream I've always wanted'
Matt Sellers didn't have it easy growing up.
"The way I grew up was rough. I grew up in San Bernardino, in the ghetto," he said. "It was scary walking there, you'd hear gunshots here and gunshots there. My school was so bad that we had a drill where if you heard gunshots you'd just drop until you quit hearing it. Then after you were done your coach would do his whistle and you'd get up and look around and if everything was good you just started playing again."
Sellers found his way out through sports—he excelled at athletics, baseball especially.
"If I hadn't been as good as I was in baseball, that helped you because as a freshman I made varsity, now I knew people with cars, who were older than me, who could take me under their wing. I had people picking me up and taking me instead of having to walk to school," He said. "It saved my life as a kid."`
Sellers played through high school, received a scholarship to play at Long Beach State and played there for two years. He transferred to the University of Nevada Las Vegas for another two years, and at the end of it all, he signed on for the Seattle Mariners. Though he'd never imagined playing professionally, Sellers was headed to do just that.
Then he threw out his elbow.
"I played for so long and once you play at a high level like that for so long that it just becomes the normal," Sellers said. "It never seemed anything different, I was just 'oh now I'm going to play baseball here' or 'now I'm going to play baseball there.' It really didn't sink in until after I threw my elbow out and it was over."
His career was over before it had begun, and at 21 years old, Sellers had to find a new path in life. He started working at his father's carpet business and also at his local grocery store. 18 years later, Sellers is the store director for Cashwise here in Dickinson—his journey through the grocery world saw him serve 17 years working in Las Vegas, right on the Strip.
When the top brass of his company told him about possibilities aplenty in the Bakken region, Sellers took his shot, despite the rough reputation that the oil boom brought to the area.
"I read all up on Williston before I came and it was all bad, everything I heard from the oil field standpoint was ... lots of drugs, trafficking, all these things and ... you're going to have to be careful there," He said. "When I got here, it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought. I'm from Vegas. My grocery store was on the Strip, so by day it was the older folks and by night I had the bad crowd. So it was every day I had this stuff, it was like water trickling off of me. It wasn't even close. So I was really able to help people adapt to that."
Sellers spoke candidly about how North Dakota has adapted—or struggled to adapt—with its growing diversity. His childhood, growing up in a bad part of a California city, saw Sellers encountering a wide assortment of cultures and people. Cold and remote, North Dakota remained insulated, and Sellers believes that this exacerbated the challenges the boom brought.
"People who grew up in North Dakota don't have the experiences I've had, they just don't. They're not blinded by it, but they are in essence ... they are very black and white," Sellers said. "This is the way it is, and they don't understand how a person could be this way."
The diversity Sellers became accustomed to in his childhood has been instrumental in allowing him to be a better supervisor, and to more effectively understand and help his employees.
"People would say that the way I grew up was horrible, but it's what made me be so diverse with so many different people and cultures. Whether it'd be African Americans or Hispanics, I don't even see color, I grew up in that. I have aunts and uncles and cousins who are a different color than I am," Sellers said.
"All of those things help me to run this grocery store to the best of my ability because I can relate to everybody," he added. "If you can't relate to each individual, you're not going to be successful because you're not going to understand what makes you tick. I'm able to sit and listen to them and 9 times out 10 I've already been through what they've been through... This job, for me, is amazing and it's the dream I've always wanted to do."
Sellers has fallen fully in love with the charm of the Badlands, the Dickinson community being among the safest and friendliest he's encountered.
"People are genuine people, they really care about you. Something happens in this community someone's going to be there to pick you up," he said. "The town's really tight when it comes to that. I feel personally that it's safe. I don't worry about locking my doors."
He's making plans to purchase a house in the area and settle down. Sellers is a highly active person—he still plays sports, softball and baseball, he works out and participates in various community sporting events.
"Everybody's nice, friendly, even the cops are good," Sellers said. "I know all of the cops, they all play softball for me, the mayor, everybody here is just good people."
He's also an ardent supporter of the North Dakota Special Olympics and Cashwise has been recognized by the organization for his efforts. On March 24 the annual Polar Plunge fundraiser for the olympics will be held in the Cashwise parking lot.
The world will always need grocery stores, Sellers said—while big retailers like Amazon and Walmart battle over the mass market, Cashwise benefits from the customers who don't want their groceries delivered, and who value things that specialized grocers can provide—natural foods, fresh produce and a tangible shopping experience.
"Grocery stores are always going to be there and it seems to me like things are going back to how it used to be," Sellers said. "In my opinion, I've bought food off the internet before and I'm not happy with it—we tried to order these meals online ... and it's more of a pain in the butt than anything. I'd rather come into the grocery store, pick my fruits, pick my vegetables, get my stuff—touch it, feel it."