Loyal shoppers keep Weiland's going strong
Clintonville's go-to spot for gourmet food to focus on service as it enters second half-century
Owner and proprietor Jennifer Williams, co-founder John Williams and President Scott Bowman are celebrating a new era at Weiland's Gourmet Market, 3600 Indianola Ave. (below). The original 1,200-square-foot store opened on North High Street in 1961. Buy This Photo
As one of Clintonville's more venerable institutions enters a second half-century, co-founder John Williams thinks it's time he took it easy.
After all, he's 74 -- so no more 12-hour days, seven days a week at Weiland's Gourmet Market, 3600 Indianola Ave.
With daughter Jennifer Williams having taken over last year as owner and proprietor of the independent grocery store, John Williams is planning to scale back to just eight hours a day, five days a week -- all right, six if things are busy.
"I'll just keep working as long as I can," he said last week. "It's pretty much all I've ever done, so it's pretty much all I know.
"It's been fun -- and still is, actually."
For her part, Jennifer Williams turned her back on a 20-year career in marketing and communications in the banking industry to help carry on the family tradition at Weiland's, which her dad started with George Weiland on North High Street in 1961.
It's a decision she doesn't regret a bit.
"After a year, I found that the personal contact with customers is really the great part of my job," she said.
She said she delights in introducing a customer to a new gourmet cheese or seeing someone purchasing ham salad made the way it has been for the past 51 years.
"It's just fun," she said. "There aren't any layers of bureaucracy. The thing that's made us successful over the years (is) we have such loyal customers in Clintonville and beyond.
"It sounds kind of trite, but I'm so grateful when people come into the store. They choose to come here."
"I would say the No. 1 reason is customer service, and it's going to get nothing but better in the future," said Scott Bowman, Jennifer Williams' husband and president of Weiland's. "We've got great customer service now, but we need to take it to the next level."
"We're probably pretty much of a niche as far as what we do," John Williams said. "I don't want to try to compete with Meijer or the other big-box stores. That's not my idea. My idea is to provide a service, which to me, is the second-biggest thing you do, after the quality of the product you put out."
John Williams' father used to run a small specialty grocery store at the intersection of North High Street and Weisheimer Road. John was still in high school when his father died of a heart attack at 48, and his stepmother took over the business.
John Williams said he and his stepmother "didn't click," so he and former store employee George Weiland decided to launch their own competing establishment, also on North High Street. They called it Weiland's Fine Meats because Williams' Grocery already was in use.
"I didn't care what the name was," he said. "As long as they found us, that's all that matters."
The business prospered, he said, moving from the original 1,200-square-foot location to a 5,000-square-foot store at 4442 Indianola Ave., and finally to a 15,000-square-foot space at what was once Murray's Village Market at 3600 Indianola in May 1999.
"It just keeps going, for which we're thankful," John Williams said.
He admitted he wasn't certain that was going to happen.
"Believe it or not, I was afraid we were going to lose a generation, -- fast-food people and Walmart-type people -- but in the last five years, we've developed a younger crowd," he said. "They're not real big spenders, but they come in every week and they're interested in the quality you get.
"Nothing ever changes. It just comes around."
"I think the younger generation wants to know where it comes from," Jennifer Williams said. "For them, it's an experience shopping here. They want to put some work into it."
She and her husband met while he was a seasonal employee at the original location.
"We met at the proverbial meat market," Bowman said. "When we tell that to people, they get quite a kick out of it."