The new owner of Upper Arlington's Huffman's Market said he hopes to maintain the store that local shoppers have loyally supported, including retaining its staff.

On July 30, Tim Huffman sold the grocery store he's owned at 2140 Tremont Center since 1987 to Raj Patel, a Chicago businessman.

As Huffman, an Upper Arlington icon of sorts, steps away, the new owner said he knows he has big shoes to fill.

But over the past two weeks, he's spent his time at the store familiarizing himself with employees, customers and his predecessor's ways of doing business.

Patel said he plans to maintain the status quo at Huffman's, including retaining the store's name and giving all of the approximately 31 existing employees the chance to continuing working there.

"I'm not going to make any changes," Patel said. "This is well-established. Customers like that. I don't want to make changes that upset them."

Patel said he's operated several convenience stores in Illinois and was looking to transition into the grocery store business. Huffman's appealed to him, he said, because of its location, loyal customer base and state-minimum beer and wine sale prices that he said afford Ohio grocery stores a better chance of competing with bigger competitors than those in Illinois and other states.

"Tim called me and said, 'Raj, I want to retire. Can you take over?' " Patel said. "To me, it looks more promising than Illinois.

"I've talked to all the employees and I'm looking for an apartment or house here."

Huffman's son and market general manager, Ryan Huffman, said the operation of the store is expected to stay the same, although there will be subtle differences between his father and Patel.

"Everything is business as usual," Ryan Huffman said. "(Patel) has a much nicer moustache and he's about 100 pounds lighter."

Patel said the Huffmans have been "very helpful" in showing him the ropes of the business and explaining the dynamics of the community and the Huffman's Market customer base.

Tim Huffman said the ownership transition has been "very smooth" and called Patel a "very, very dedicated man."

He also said he'd be nearby to help if needed -- at least when he's not traveling with his wife, Glenda, who for years has been a visible partner in the business.

"We found a gentleman who has some experience in the business," Tim Huffman said. "(Patel's) well-versed and he has been trained very well here for the last few weeks.

"This man here will be fantastic. Just show him the support you've given me over the years, and with a little bit of time and experience, he will be fine."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

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