There’s on old electric Dairyland Farms clock that hangs on the wall in Al Parker’s office. It’s the very same clock that hung over the entrance of Parker’s store when they opened their doors at the current location on February 6, 1964. For Parker, it serves as a reminder of the loyalty of LaFayette’s citizens to one of the city’s longest operating businesses.
Last Thursday, Parker’s Foods celebrated 50 years of service and Parker repeated one word to describe the way he feels about the store’s life, “humbled.”
The history of the store stretches back before 1964, when Parker’s grandfather Sim Parker, his father Albert, Sr. and his uncle Quinton purchased the grocery store on 1st St. from John Boyd in 1948. It was originally called Parker’s Super Market.
In 1963, Albert, Sr. decided it was time to move to a bigger and better location, so he built the current store on the site of the former Raines’ house. Last week, a laughing Al noted that the bank president at the time told his father that a loan would not last him two weeks. Construction issues would ultimately delay the planned grand opening, but on Feb. 6, the current store was up and running. It was called Parker’s IGA.
Over the years there have been several changes. An addition was done in 1973 to the front of the store, then in 1980 another was done that nearly doubled it’s size. SuperValu bought out IGA in the 70’s as well, and the name was changed to Parker’s SuperValu.
Albert, Sr. ran the store by himself until 1982. It was then that Al graduated from Auburn University and returned home to help his dad. They worked together for 10 years, and then in 1992, Albert, Sr. retired. Al has been in charge ever since.
There have been numerous changes, from the building itself, to the name and to the supermarket products, but one thing has remained the same and kept the store part of the city. That’s the customer.
“The loyalty of our customers is the number one reason for the longevity and success,” Parker says. “I’m often humbled, and it’s one of the reasons that I try to do so much for the community, it’s to thank them.”
There’s a story that Al tells to help illustrate that fact. The longest closure of the store took place in 1992, when a fire caused business to cease from April 29 to July 11. “When we reopened from the fire after being closed that many days, there was concern between my daddy and me.” Parker says. “What we were concerned about was that people had gotten used to shopping other places and might not be able to break that habit. The day we reopened was on a Saturday and we sort of kept it quiet because we didn’t know what still worked. We called a few employees in but not a lot because we thought it was going to be a rebuilding process.
“So I got a piece of poster board and wrote ‘We Are Open’ on it and walked out beside the road. And an old man in a truck came by and he checked up and looked back then he turned in, and he walked in. Before long I had to throw the sign away and come help bag groceries. We did as much business that day as we had the Saturday before we closed. That was a huge for me.”
For the 50th anniversary, there wasn’t a big celebration; it was a day dedicated to serving customers just like every other. As thanks, Parker’s is giving customers numerous deals and a chance to win gift cards. He also has a plan to put up a big board in the store and allow anyone who has ever worked there to sign it; that will include Jimmy Cole, who has worked as a stocker for 41 years.
As the store celebrates the golden anniversary, it’s hard not to recognize the place it occupies in LaFayette history. Generation after generation has had the chance to take part in that small town personal shopping experience that Parker’s offers. It’s a link to the past and a model for the future.
A lot has happened in this city since that rainy day in 1964. The population has changed, the economics have changed, but that store has remained a constant.
“We’re fortunate,” Parker says. “Not a lot of businesses make it 50 years, and I’m very humbled by the fact that we can continue to do business for this long.”