Partners in time

“When I heard the store was for sale, the wheels started turning—well, that might be an opportunity,” said Catherine Gilley, the new owner of the Peabody Market.

Thanks to a local entrepreneur looking for a career change, plus a unique arrangement for financial support, residents of Peabody will be able to keep buying their groceries in their hometown store.

Catherine Gilley had lived in rural Peabody for seven years while working in the finance office for the city of Wichita for about 13 years. She decided to do what she could to keep the Peabody Market open and operating for local residents.

“When I heard the store was for sale, the wheels started turning—well, that might be an opportunity,” she said.

Keeping the store open for the community was a key factor, even though she hadn’t been a frequent shopper there.

“I lived in the country outside of Peabody for seven years,” she said. “I didn’t even come into town a lot because I lived between Wichita and Peabody. I’d come into town every once in a while to get some groceries. But for the most part I didn’t have a lot of interaction with the town.”

About six years ago Gilley moved to Wichita to be closer to her job. Not long after that, fate intervened.

“I happened to meet some­body who lived in Peabody, and we’ve been dating for the past couple of years,” she said. “It kind of got to the point of where we were taking about selling my house or selling his house—which direction do you want to go?

“We were pretty much planning on staying in Wichita because of my job, and he has a mobile business.”

When her boyfriend’s father died in December, circumstances changed. His mother was living on her own in Peabody.

“So, when I heard the store was for sale, the wheels started moving—that might be an opportunity for us,” she said. “That would get us moved (to Peabody) instead of Wichita. I could sell my house, and we’d be closer to his mother.”

Making the decision

Gilley had to weigh another factor in her decision.

“I had never owned a business before,” she said. “This just came along at this point in life where it would take us in a direction we needed to go. I figured it can’t hurt (to talk about it).”

Gilley visited with Mike Crow, who owner the store at the time, and they walked around the store.

“I was just really impressed with everything, though I hadn’t shopped here a lot,” Gilley said. “I had been in the store and I could see the difference—how much cleaner it was, all the technology he’s upgraded here. I kind of thought, this is an opportunity.

“I decided to go for it,” she said. “I decided if it’s meant to be, it will work out. I just kind of believe that’s the way life is. You can’t just go back and wait for something to happen—but if you don’t try, you’ll never know.”

Financing plan

Having a potential new owner was key, but working through the financial challenges to acquire the business was another thing.

Gilley provided some of the money for the purchase, but she also received help through a series of local investment programs.

“We have the partnership of a bunch of different communities,” Gilley said. “South Central Kansas Economic Development District was instrumental in putting it together.”

The other financial partners are the Hillsboro E-Community loan program, the Marion County Revolving loan fund and Vintage Bank in Peabody.

“They all kind of came together and took a piece of it,” Gilley said. “They’ve all been very supportive. It’s not just the Peabody community (that benefits), it’s also part of Marion County.

“Hillsboro is assisting in this, and so is the county—and all the tax dollars affect the county as a whole,” Gilley said. “It was a really good partnership all the way around.”

Local response

Gilley said local residents have expressed their relief that Peabody Market will continue to provide food and groceries for the community.

“The community was very excited that the store was going to stay open,” she s aid. “It was very scary for them. It’s very convenient here, and there are people who don’t have the means to get to Newton or other places where they shop.

“I think there was a relief among the town that it was going to remain open,” she added. “They have all being very responsive and very positive with me. I haven’t run into anybody who’s had a negative word to say, which is nice.”

Owner assistance

The ownership transition has been mostly smooth, Gilley said. Mike Crow, the former owner, has been a key resource for Gilley.

Even so, she has already experiences a few bumps along the way, including a food truck that arrived three hours late—and then hit the electrical power line that supplied electricity to the store and most of the community.

“You know, I didn’t expect it to be easy,” she said with a laugh. “I knew I’d be working hard and putting in a lot of hours, at least in the beginning. There’s so much to learn.”

Gilley said she also has the tapped the skills of her boyfriend, who operates a mobile repair business.

“We are partners in this business, although this is my business,” Gilley said. “He’s very supportive and has been helping me solve problems.

“His traveling with his job allows me to stay here and work in the store and not miss a lot of time. And I’m glad he’s patient.”

Gilley said she is upbeat about the future of her store as a resource for Peabody, but it will entail a lot of work.

“I’ll figure out that work-and-life balance in time,” she said, “But, right now I’m just putting in as much time as I can— especially because Mike is sticking it out with me until the end of the month.

“I want to absorb as much knowledge as I can from him before that’s done. I don’t want to waste a moment.”

Gilley is already excited about the official grand opening she is planning for the “new” Peabody Market from 1-2 p.m. Saturday, June 30.

“We’re gong to have hot dogs and stuff for the people to come by and say hi,” she said. “We’ll give them a little lunch, have a little entertainment, give away some prizes and stuff.

“I just want to bring the people out who haven’t gotten to meet me, and just spark some interest in the store again. That ought to be a good time.”

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