Benjamin S. Brasch / WUFT News permalink
John Gillard, 52-year-old Ward's employee, fills a walk-up cooler with produce on Nov. 16.
In the beginning, there was just a small wooden building and a chicken wire fence for a door.
“Literally, chicken wire that locked up the door at night,” Trish Ward said.
Ward’s Supermarket is now at its third location with sturdier walls and glass doors with dark black frames. The supermarket has been operating in Gainesville since 1951.
At age 15, Trish Ward began working at Ward’s Supermarket where she met Billy Ward and three years later married him. Trish and Billy Ward are now the third generation of the Ward family to manage Ward’s Supermarket located on 515 NW 23rd Ave. in Gainesville.
The family supermarket has been owned and operated by the Ward family since the store opened in 1951.
Billy Ward’s grandparents opened the store and then Billy’s parents continued management, she said. Billy and Trish Ward are now in charge of the family business, and there are eight Ward family members currently working in the supermarket. Trish Ward said she has pretty much spent her entire life in the store with her husband.
Trish Ward said her children and their spouses work at the supermarket along with her sister-in-law and niece. Her mother recently retired.
The supermarket is the only independent grocery store left in Gainesville, Ward said. It has even been in Gainesville longer than Publix.
The first Publix location in Gainesville was opened in 1958, according to Dwaine Stevens, a Publix media and community relations manager.
Trish Ward said the ability to buy from local growers is probably the main reason why Ward’s Supermarket has been so successful.
“We support many, many local vendors,” she said. “Our key is pretty much what the rest of the world is catching onto of supporting local vendors. That’s something we have believed in strongly from the conception of our business, and I think it is probably a lot of what has kept us open is being able to buy from local people.”
She said the relationships she has formed with local growers are more than just business relationships.
“A lot of them become friends over the years. We treat them well. They treat us well,” she said. “It’s a great working relationship.”
Trish Ward remembered a special moment she had with one of her employees that happened about 10 years ago in the supermarket: he got married at the courtesy booth. The employee couldn’t afford a wedding, and when he asked Trish she said, “of course.”
“We literally had his wedding during business hours,” she said. “We went out front on the front porch and got a bunch of the flowers and brought it in up at the courtesy booth. He had a pastor come in and he had a three-minute ceremony. All the customers clapped, and we took pictures. They were married, and they were happy.”
Jeremiah Gordon has been shopping at Ward’s Supermarket for the last 40 years. The 61-year-old was born in Hawthorne and has lived in Gainesville for over 40 years.
“This is a very, very sweet place — family oriented and it’s good,” he said as he stood in the Ward’s Supermarket parking lot with his daughter. “I will continue [shopping here] ‘till I can’t go no more, and then she’ll be coming for me.”
Gordon remembers shopping at Ward’s Supermarket over the years and said the supermarket always has what he needs.
“It’s amazing how things have changed, but one thing that hasn’t changed is Ward’s Supermarket,” he said. “They got a legacy here. It’s a family place, a family tradition.”
Trish Ward said although at times working in a supermarket can be exhausting, she feels the family supermarket will remain a tradition in her family to be passed down to future generations.
“Four generations in the grocery business is very, very, very rare,” she said. “No stores make it four generations. We are certainly very unusual.”
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