By AARON BOHACHEK
BONNERS FERRY — After three years in the eye-catching indigo building before the top of Bonners Ferry’s South Hill, Henry and Verna Yoder have moved their discount grocery business a few blocks south to the old showroom of the Boundary County Electric building.
Amish from the Millersburg, Ohio, area, the Yoders believe in a personal customer service that isn’t seen in other grocery stores. “We engage in people’s lives,” Henry Yoder says, “We want our customers to feel like family.”
The new expansion has more than doubled the square footage available to the store.
With the additional space, the Yoders have begun carrying some local and some Amish products. A large wagon displaying local noodles and jams stands in the center of the store.
“This is where we came from,” Henry says, recalling a childhood without electricity, phones, or the box truck he now uses.
The expansion includes a deli section where the Yoders will be selling Amish meats and cheeses, a coffee bar with pastries and a new bulk foods section. They are also excited to be selling raw cow and goat milk from the Springs of Hope dairy near Moyie Springs. Raw milk is illegal to sell in Montana and Canada and the Yoders see a lot of people traveling to shop at their store.
Yoder’s is able to sell their products at a discount from other grocery stores. Along with a cooperative of other discount groceries in Idaho and Montana, the Yoders get truckloads of goods that have been rejected from other stores due to dents, mislabeled items, misprints or overstocked items. Everything is warehoused and packed in banana boxes so they never know what they are going to get.
Often, they find products that no one sees in the area. Using a smartphone with a barcode scanner, Henry is able to check on retail prices. “If the code comes up with some kind of tool or something, I know the label was a misprint,” he laughs.
According to the USDA, only baby food and formula have actual expiration dates by which they must be removed from the shelves.
Everything else is a voluntary ‘best by’ or ‘sell by’ date. Food will go stale eventually, but canned food stays good as long as five to seven years after the best by date, Henry said. The Yoders go through all the product before it goes on the shelves.
They dispose of anything that is open or unsafe to eat. More often, though, they can’t tell what was wrong with the package. The store is able to offer canned, bagged and boxed food this way, as well as frozen food. They are also able to carry some discount produce.
The store moved in one day, Saturday, Dec. 29 and the Yoders had more help than they could handle. “We had about 20 people here to help us,” Henry said “and we could have had more. If everyone had showed up who wanted to there wouldn’t have been room to move!”
While the business strives to keep prices as low as possible in order to help the less fortunate, the Yoders are clear that they want everyone to feel welcome in their store. “This is a lot of hard work,” Verna says, “But it’s worth it because of the joy it brings people.”
The Yoders plan to have soup and sandwiches available in the future, with a lounge area and student discounts, so kids can come over from the high school for lunch. Henry would also like to see the parking lot paved. For now, the Yoders are just happy to have the extra parking, and customers can back up to the walkway to load their groceries.
Will Hedrick, owner of Boundary County Electric is happy to have Yoder’s move into his old showroom.
After struggling with a down economy and competition from big box retailers, Hedrick also had a hard time renting the space after closing his retail store. Boundary County Electric still maintains a shop next door to the grocery. Hedrick prefers the less stressful contracting business to the retail one. “We’re still open for business.” he assures his customers. After a short stint in Alaska, Hedrick is relieved to see his business finally turning a profit.
The store will be open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. You can contact the store at (208) 267 9607 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.