Jim Blakemore signs a copy of his book during a special event Saturday at the Coronado Museum. The books were sold out and special orders were taken for more copies of Blakemore’s book that chronicled the life of his family in the grocery business that started in Liberal and grew into a major corporation. L&T photo/Earl Watt
By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times
The line formed early Saturday morning at the Coronado Museum for those seeking a copy of Jim Blakemore’s book about the Ideal Food Stores, and in less than two hours, every copy that filled an old Ideal grocery cart had been purchased.
After purchasing a book, patrons were able to sit down with the author for a few words while he personally signed each copy. Blakemore donated the proceeds of the book sales to help the Seward County Historical Society fund a new building project, and the event raised $4,300.
“We’re out, but we will get some more,” Coronado Museum Executive Director JoAnne Mansell said. “We already have orders for 20 additional books.”
Many who came either worked at the chain of stores or had a relative who did. Mansell said the family’s success tied directly to the success of the community.
“The Blakemores were so instrumental in the growth of Liberal,” she said. “They employed thousands of people over the years. They were hardworking people, and that has come back around with the attendance and the books we sold. They love coming in and getting a book, visiting with Jim.”
One of those former employees was Gene Myrick who went to work for the Ideal Food Store that was located on Second Street when he was only 14 years old. He worked for the store from 1946 until 1956.
“I liked working for them,” Myrick said. “They were honest, but they wanted you to work, it’s just that simple. I was making almost 50 cents an hour, so I couldn’t complain.”
Myrick trained the sackers and the stockers.
“You moved all the old stuff forward and the new stuff to the back,” he said. “I even went to the new store that is down south as a furniture store to candle the eggs so there wouldn’t be a dead chicken in somebody’s eggs.”
Products like eggs and others weren’t always trucked in. Some items in the early days were grown locally.
“Everything is shipped in today,” Myrick said. “Nothing is bought locally. At that time, green beans were growing in gardens or someone would cultivate a field for pumpkins. There was a lot of good stuff.”
Karen Stillwell used to be a neighbor of the Blakemores, and she knew how hardworking the family was firsthand.
“They were very economical,” Stillwell said. “We all went through that.
“I went to the north store in Liberal, and Vern Patterson kept that store immaculate.”
Shopping habits have changed over the years from visiting the store as a social event to getting your groceries and getting back to a life in the fast lane.
“Everybody is too busy making a living today,” Stillwell said. “It used to be a place you met your friends. You had time to stop and speak to one another.”
Today, friends have to plan time to get together rather than bumping into each other on their regular grocery store visit, but Stillwell said saving money also led to getting free items from the store as well.
“You saved your receipts, and when you had enough points, you would get something,” she said. “I still use the ironing board I got from my receipts at Ideal’s. It was something you got, and back then we were used to working so hard for everything.”
By providing good groceries and jobs as the business expanded into a distribution center and into the modern supermarket model, Ideal Food Stores under the leadership of the Blakemore family was committed to the growth of the community, and Mansell said they still support growth today.
“They want to see the Heritage Center built,” she said. “They want to see Liberal continue to grow and how important this new Heritage Center will be to our community. This book looks back, but the family has always looked forward. I wish I would have had 300 more books.”
When the books were all gone, Blakemore continued to talk with those who came and visit about different stories from the store.
For Myrick, the former grocery sacker, he knew why so many were fond of the Blakemores.
“Ideal sold good food and fresh food,” he said. “And they always took care of their customers.”