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Whiteside has witnessed change in the grocery business

Paul Whiteside, who works at County Market, is retiring soon, after 45 years in the industry, 35 of those in Hudson. Photo by Margaret A. Ontl

For over four decades, Paul Whiteside has been working in the grocery business.

"It has been a good livelihood," said Whiteside. "I would not have changed a thing. Even the early morning drive helped me clear my head for the day."

A native of Eau Claire, he started his long career there in 1965 at K-Mart Foods. In 1970 he moved to River Falls, going to work for Dick Wallin at his Red Owl store. In 1975, when Wallin opened a Red Owl in Hudson, Whiteside came to Hudson to work but remained a resident of River Falls. Over the next 35 years Whiteside remained steady, continuing to work as the store itself and its ownership went through several transitions, while located in Plaza 94 it became Dick and Len's Red Owl, then Market Place Foods and finally after moving to the south side of I-94 it became County Market, which it remains today.

"Over the years the owners have been very accommodating," said Whiteside. "That's why I am still here. I really like the people I have been working for. The person at the top motivates the rest of the people under them."

Whiteside recalled a few exciting episodes, like when a woman accidentally hit the accelerator on her car, driving it through the front window of Market Place. No one was injured except the car and the window.

"One morning we came in to find 50 to 100 glass bottles of orange juice had fallen out of their case," said Whiteside. "That was baptism by orange juice, but we got it cleaned up before customers arrived." Another exciting moment, he recalled, was when the safe was stolen and after driving about 6 miles if fell off the back of the get a way vehicle.

Whiteside has been a witness to quantum changes in the industry, from hand ordering and hand pricing to scanning for both.

He has worked as the produce manager, diary and frozen manager, for a short time he was assistant store manager and is currently in pricing and receiving.

"There is no comparison today to what the produce department was when I started," said Whiteside. "Back then it was just 36 feet compared to the vast displays today. However, it has always been the same philosophy, freshness and quality is the most important. Produce is often an impulse item and my theory is that if you wouldn't buy don't put it out."

Managing the diary and frozen department is a different story.

"It is challenging because you are dealing with so much volume combined with price, freshness and movement of the product," said Whiteside, who is fond of the fact that in all his years of managing that department his number one item in sales was a one pound package of butter followed by his number two item in sales, a gallon of skim milk. Private label orange juice is near the top of the list as well.

Whiteside tried to instill a solid work ethic in the employees who worked for him.

"I always used to tell them it doesn't matter what job you do it pays the same," said Whiteside. "I'd tell them, 'There isn't any job I have given you that I haven't already done myself.'"

As for retirement, Whiteside's plans include playing more golf, doing a little traveling and being more available for fire calls. He has been a member of the River Falls Fire Department for 37 years.

"My kids told me I have to find a hobby," said Whiteside. "My daughter is convinced there isn't blade of grass on the River Fall golf course I haven't walked on. I guess I will just go with the flow."

"I would like to thank all the people in Hudson for the good times, and just for the smiles," said Whiteside. "Smiles, that's key to the retail business. You can change a person's whole day with a smile." He hopes the customers remember his smile and willingness to help with a Top of the Morning attitude.