BELLVILLE -- Pat Hayes is a people person. He loves making others feel welcome. Whenever a customer walked into Stoodt’s Market, Hayes was always willing to share a laugh, cheer someone up when they’re down or simply ask about their day.
That’s what Hayes enjoyed most about his job -- and why he was so brokenhearted when Stoodt’s Market closed earlier this year.
“I miss the people,” Hayes said. “I love people. You get to meet different people, a lot of good people and people you wouldn’t think you’d even associate with end up being good friends.”
When Bellville’s lone grocery store closed its doors last January, many residents feared it was the end of an era.
Georjean Stoodt, whose grandfather founded the store in 1926, didn’t want to see the legacy die.
“I grew up here. For all of my life, there’s been a pretty full-service grocery store in the community,” Stoodt said. “When it closed in January, the family question was, ‘What are we going to do with this property, this building?’”
Stoodt reached out to Hayes and Bernard “Bernie” Hollar, who had worked at the store for a total of 55 years and served as owner and operator from 1989 to 2016.
After months of research and deliberation, the trio decided to dive in and revive Stoodt’s Market. The store, slightly rebranded as Stoodt’s Fresh Market, is set to open by early August.
“It’s real exciting. I didn’t think we were going to be able to find someone to reopen it,” Hollar said. “We can’t go nowhere without somebody asking when we’re going to open the store.”
“There’s a lot of excitement and hope in the community that this will move forward and succeed and that has been very gratifying to me,” Stoodt added.
After 41 years as an employee of Stoodt’s Market, Hayes will be taking the helm as general manager.
“I tell people it’s nervously exciting,” Hayes said. “My goal is to make it successful. I want to turn it back into the way Bernie used to have the store ran. Friendliness, kindness, contributing to the Clear Fork Valley, make them proud of us and hopefully they will be."
Hayes started working at Stoodt’s as a teenager, carrying groceries to customers’ cars. Since then, he’s done a little bit of everything, from working in the produce department to managing the dairy and grocery departments.
Hollar credited Stoodt with putting a lot of time, money and effort into the reopening. The building now has 15 new freezers and more produce cases.
According to Stoodt, the space reserved for fresh produce has doubled and the space for frozen foods has nearly doubled. The store will feature a bakery and full service meat department. Eventually, the team hopes to add gift cards, online ordering options and delivery.
Many longtime employees will be returning, including the store’s former meat cutter and head baker.
Most importantly, Stoodt’s signature homemade donuts will also be making a comeback.
“If you line the donuts up side to side, we've sold donuts here to California,” Hayes joked.
The only item that won’t be returning right away is adult beverages. Stoodt said she is leaning toward selling alcohol, but that it will take some time to get the store a permit.
While Stoodt, Hayes and Hollar make up the driving force behind the store’s reopening, they’ve also had some help from community volunteers, including a local Girl Scout troop.
When the time came to tidy up the inside of the building and clean the freezers and refrigerators out, helping hands emerged.
“It kind of started with people that I’d run into, that I knew growing up, saying “If there's anything I can do let me know,” Stoodt said. “It was very encouraging to me that people cared that much.”