After spending much of his life in supermarket aisles, Upper Arlington's Tim Huffman has been immortalized by his Ohio Grocers Association peers.
On Sept. 12, Huffman, owner of Huffman's Market at 2140 Tremont Center in Upper Arlington, was inducted into the Ohio Grocers Hall of Fame.
The association is a nonprofit trade association representing 700 grocers and wholesalers from throughout Ohio.
The OGA established the Ohio Grocers Hall of Fame in 2000 to honor individuals who have dedicated their lives to the food industry in the state. Inductees are nominated by OGA members and approved by a nominating committee
For Huffman, making to the Hall of Fame is far from the culmination of his career, as he plans to continue to work at his market even after he passes ownership of the store to his son, Ryan, at some point in the future.
Rather, Huffman said, it's recognition that his peers in the grocery industry respect him and his devotion to his store and customer service in a day and age when independent grocers are almost a thing of the past.
"It's about as big an honor as there is," Huffman said. "To be nominated by my peers, I thought that was fantastic, especially since there aren't many independent stores.
"I feel honored and humbled by it."
When Huffman says the grocery business is all he's ever done, it's not hyperbole.
At the age of 10, his first job consisted of sorting soda bottles and sweeping floors at a carryout.
Except for a 13-month tour with U.S. Marines during the Vietnam War, Huffman's work in carryouts and grocery stores has been uninterrupted since that first job.
Eventually, his path led him to a business partnership with his two brothers, Joe, who originally opened Huffman's Market, and Ray. The brothers at one point operated three stores before downsizing to the current store in the Tremont Center and Tim's decision to buy out Joe and Ray.
Huffman said he's carried on the business because it's a true labor of love.
"I enjoy the contact with the people, just getting to know people and their ways of life, I think that's great," he said. "You get to know their habits, you get to know their kids, you know when there's a death in the family or when someone has graduated. When people come in here, it's like they're an extended part of my family."
While an affinity for his job keeps him at the market, Huffman said he believes the personal side of his store has kept him independently owned and in business over the years.
In addition to getting to know customers, Huffman said he and his wife, Glenda, with whom he will celebrate 43 years of marriage in October, are close to their employees.
The staff, which includes some people in their 70s and 80s, has repaid them with loyalty.
"Our philosophy is to be the friendliest and give the best customer service, and the employees I have are the very best employees," Huffman said. "They're long-term employees. Usually when they come, they stay."
Over the years, Huffman has weathered changing economies and business models.
Although Huffman's Market hasn't expanded its space in the 26 years it's been in operation, its staff has grown from roughly 20 employees to 50, and it has undergone at least four remodeling projects designed to increase the size of popular sections such as the deli, while also creating greater stocking and space efficiencies.
With Ryan's help, Huffman also has embraced the use of the Internet and social media like Facebook and Twitter to promote the store.
The single biggest change Huffman made also turned out to be his best business move at the store: In July 1995, Huffman's Market began selling alcohol.
In 2004, he took it a step further by defying an Ohio Division of Liquor Control ruling that Sunday liquor sales were prohibited in the Buckeye state. After anteing up money to place a local liquor option on the ballot in March that year, Upper Arlington voters approved the measure by approximately 85 percent.
On April 18, 2004, Huffman's Market became the first store in Ohio to legally sell liquor on Sundays.
"Liquor is probably our biggest draw," Huffman said.
Through the years in business and growing successes, Huffman also has been a cornerstone of his community. According to Upper Arlington city officials, he frequently has answered the call to help promote or financially support community events.
When informed Huffman had been inducted to the Ohio Grocers Hall of Fame, Upper Arlington Parks and Recreation Director Tim Moloney replied, "What took so long?" before lauding the local merchant for his commitment to the community.
"I cannot think of a better grocer to recognize than Tim," Moloney said. "Tim, as well as Huffman's Market, has been an amazing partner to dozens of events, activities and programs throughout the parks and recreation department.
"Whenever we are in need or just looking for someone to assist us with pulling off any type of event, we call Tim. From sponsoring our chili cook-off to helping provide treats at our summer concert series, Huffman is there."
Upper Arlington Chamber of Commerce President Becky Hajost concurred.
"We are proud to congratulate Tim Huffman for being inducted in the Ohio Grocers Hall of Fame," Hajost said. "Tim truly cares about the community and leads with integrity and passion."
In speaking of the community in which he's grown his business and made a name for himself, Huffman said it is filled with caring, hard-working people who are proud of where they live and work, and he credited city officials and the Upper Arlington school district with continuing to bring in more quality people to make the city their home.
As for the future, Huffman said he will turn the business over to Ryan at some point, but he's not sure when.
"It's all I've ever done," Huffman said. "At some point, (Ryan) may take over the business, but I'll probably still be here.
"I would find it very difficult not to be in the business. I think I have lots of energy to devote to this store."