Struggle to keep a full service grocery store in Rangely an ongoing battle

Bill Hume, Nichols owner, sits in front of a wall full of memories from the store, which used to offer a wide grocery selection. Jen Hill photo

RANGELY | Discussion of groceries and where to get them is nothing new for Rangely residents. Between the recent downsizing of the local grocery store and the Rangely Development Agency’s discussion of a new store, grocery shopping is a topic sure to elicit a variety of responses.
The history of grocery stores in Rangely looks markedly different than the grocery situation found today. Nothing makes that contrast clearer than an early morning conversation with Nichols owner Bill Hume. As we sit and discuss the “good old days” and the grocery business, long time friends and customers filter through the store, helping themselves to a cup of coffee or a sausage and egg breakfast and I get a glimpse of what the store must have been like 30 or 40 years ago.
“Running the grocery store was tougher than anything I’ve done,” said Hume.
Nichols was one of the earliest grocery stores in Rangely and was acquired by the Hume family in 1973. The store was originally operated by Bill Hume’s father, who had previous grocery experience in Leadville, and uncle. Hume eventually took over the management of the store, and at that time Nichols was a full service grocery store.
Running the store required weekly checking of produce and grocery prices, something that was much more challenging in pre-internet days. The ever increasing product selections requiring more and more shelf space and more limited ‘best used by’ dates brought swelling challenges to the business. According to Hume this changing market and the influx of convenience stores in the early 1980s began a sharp downturn in the grocery business. “Before the convenience stores we had full service gas stations and grocery stores. In Nichols I had 300 people come through the doors before 8 a.m.,” he said.
In addition to the impact of the convenience stores people began to leave town more regularly. Eventually there was a, “Walmart in every direction. Vernal, Junction, Rifle and now Craig. People started to drive to Vernal before driving down the street for groceries,” said Hume. “Eventually nobody liked our stores. They wanted better and bigger.”
At this time Nichols wasn’t alone in the grocery business. BestWay, owned and operated by the Hayden family, had been in town for decades and spanned three generations. They also boasted a full service grocery.
In the early 2000s the Steiner family built the new White River Market. Hume said he was unsurprised when it didn’t work out and the building was left vacant. The empty store was eventually purchased by Darren Hill, the current owner. In 2006 Hill bought out the grocery portion of Nichols and BestWay, which was sold to Brad Casto and is the current NAPA building.
Hume adapted, turning Nichols into an animal feed and general merchandise operation. He still sells milk, and is, in fact, a local milk distributor. Hume also takes orders for specific grocery items. When asked why he still participates in the grocery business on any level he easily answers, “I like helping people out.” This statement quickly becomes illustrated when our conversation is interrupted by a phone call. On the other line is an elderly woman residing in Dinosaur. She gives Hume a short list of items and he tells her he’ll bring it by. The woman, whom he says doesn’t have much, can no longer get out to the store and so he regularly takes her orders, picks up her groceries and delivers them to her.
When Family Dollar opened several years ago Hume says they took another big slice of the local market. “Most people want to shop and get everything at one place. Family Dollar made that easier,” he said.
Shortly after Family Dollar appeared in town White River Market made a major change, dramatically downsizing the grocery offerings and converting a sizeable portion of the space into a hardware store.
With all of these changes the issue of local grocery availability has grown large enough that the Rangely Development Agency has taken on the task of exploring options. In late 2016 they issued a survey to residents with the goal of determining where and how people currently shop and what impact a fuller service grocery store might have. The results of the survey are expected in the coming weeks.
When asked his thoughts on the current grocery situation in Rangely, Hume replied, “People ought to be happy with that they’ve got. Nothing else is going to make it.” He believes there are numerous challenges in the grocery business that people don’t realize. In addition to the enticement of bigger city shopping, groceries also have to deal with throwing out large amounts of unpurchased product. Equipment breakdowns are also impactful. When freezers and coolers malfunction it’s hard to find anyone to work on them. “It gets expensive,” said Hume.
Hume doesn’t see a future with a larger grocery in Rangely anytime soon. “We’d have to get a big boom, like we had in the ’50s or ’80s. It would have to be a good one.”