For so many of us, this past year since the original COVID shut down has been a very long year. That’s exactly how Kevin Hansen describes it. He has an especially unique perspective as a small-town grocery store owner. Kevin and his wife Sherrill Hansen own and run Davenport Family Foods.
When the shutdown came last year, the Hansens lost employees who needed to stay home with their children when schools and daycare centers were closed. This forced Kevin and Sherrill to work more days and much longer hours than they had been planning to after so many years running the store.
To make matters worse, the mask mandate that they are required to enforce by law is not popular with some customers. In trying to follow the rules and avoid a hefty fine, Kevin and Sherrill feel like policemen, a role which they say, as grocers, they “never signed up for.” While it’s hard to imagine a friendly, small-town store would experience the kinds of conflict about masks we’ve seen on TV at Spokane stores, the Hansens admit that on being told masks are required, some customers become downright hostile to them.
If that’s not bad enough, there was the shortage of supplies at the beginning of the pandemic. “The T.P. thing was real,” sighs Kevin. “The paper and cleaning supplies aisles were decimated.” Shoppers were driving from Spokane looking for supplies they just knew the smaller store would have on stock. Only they didn’t. The storekeepers were even accused of hiding toilet paper in a back room of the store. Sherrill gladly let the customer look in the back room that held no toilet paper. “Go ahead and look,” she said. “If you find toilet paper, it’s yours!”
It’s taken a long time for the Hansens to build up their shelves with some items again. They just now stocked canning jars for the first time in nine months.
Originally from Spokane, Kevin and Sherrill have known each other since elementary school. They both attended Rogers High School. When asked if they were high school sweethearts, Sherrill responded emphatically, “No. We ran in different circles.” When I begged for more details, Sherrill explained the story: “A girlfriend and I witnessed a car hit a parked car and then left the scene. I had gotten the license number and went in to give it to the store manager, Kevin. My girlfriend dared me to call him and invite him to my A&W Christmas party because he hadn’t listened to a word I said – he just kept staring at me. Must have been a good call, we just celebrated our 48th anniversary!”
During that time, Kevin worked many years as a grocery store clerk and then a soft beverage supplier. When the opportunity to buy a grocery store in Davenport presented itself in 1994, the Hansens took a risk and bought the struggling business. In fact, the owners were very close to shutting down the store for good when Kevin and Sherrill took it on. With Kevin’s experience in the industry and Sherrill’s strong background in office work, they knew they had the skills to revive the store. They had been assured it would only take six months to get it back into good business. Those six months turned into two long years. But the Hansens were determined to make it work.
The Hansens started making improvements, including painting inside and out, before they even owned the store. The improvements to his former store meant so much to the former owner, seeing them literally brought tears to his eyes. He said it was nice to see that the Hansens loved the store like he had.
Despite the challenges of getting the business back on track and the hardships of this past year, the Hansens appreciate much about their adopted community. As newcomers, they received some welcome advice from a farmer, “a gentle giant of a man,” who suggested they learn how to get along in a small town by connecting with the other newcomers in town. When the Hansens followed this advice, they learned that the other “newcomers” to town, the owners of the “new” hardware store, had actually lived there and been in business for 25 years.
The Hansens feel they have much for which to be grateful in getting the store back on its feet. “A good base of community people was supportive and really rallied around us,” explains Kevin. He says older people in the community were especially supportive because they knew what the store could be with the right people.
Kevin and Sherrill say the community takes good care of them. They couldn’t have spoken more positively about local law enforcement. On the rare occasions the Hansens need to call the police, they respond quickly. “They are very reliable,” Kevin adds. “They have never let us down.”
The Hansens also admire the work of the local service-oriented groups in Davenport and the spirit of volunteerism. They appreciate the community contributions of groups like the local Lion’s Club and the good works they do for the community, like picking up litter off the highways.
Kevin and Sherrill are firm believers in supporting the local business community and demonstrate this by shopping locally as much as possible. Whether it be the items from the pharmacy or insurance, they buy everything locally. They proudly note that for 27 years they’ve bought tires from Les Schwab Davenport.
While they don’t have much time for fun or hobbies these days, Kevin is a great sports enthusiast who follows the Spokane Indians baseball team and the Spokane Chiefs hockey team. Sherrill is content to join him, if mostly to people watch. They both are adamant however that their greatest joy is their two granddaughters. They spoke proudly of how their oldest granddaughter spent one summer living with them and working at the store. She did a great job and “customers enjoyed her too.”
Kevin Hansen has been described by one customer as “the hardest working man I know.” Here is the proof that when it comes to innovation in business, sometimes the best innovation is putting your heart and soul (and a whole lot of hours) into making a business thrive in a community.