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Tark's Market to become Ray's Food Place

TALENT — The hometown supermarket outlasted Walmart's coming and going.

Tark's Market wove its way into this south Jackson County community's fabric by establishing itself as a cross between a cooperative and a chain supermarket.

"We're still on the eclectic side," said Ron Ridgway. "We have a lot of regular grocery products, but a lot of natural products, too."

But after 16 years of weathering sea changes in the grocery world, Ron and Sue Ridgway decided it was time to move on to less stressful environs. Early next month, the lights will go out at Tark's Market, and the Ridgways will turn over the keys to regional chain operator C&K Market Inc. of Brookings.

Between Sept. 4 and Sept. 10, the new owner will perform some quick-change artistry on the 20,132-square-foot store and re-open it as Ray's Food Place. "The style of the store and demographics were the perfect fit for us," said C&K Market President Doug Nidiffer, whose firm operates 64 grocery stores and 13 pharmacies ranging from Ray's Food Place and Shop Smart to C&K Market and Pharmacy Express. Ray's has Jackson County locations in Central Point, Eagle Point, Gold Hill, Jacksonville and Phoenix.

After a relatively quiet period in its gradual expansion, Ray's acquired a store in Philomath last month and celebrated a grand re-opening of the former Select Market in Drain on Thursday. "Our growth cycles seem to come in spurts," said Nidiffer. "We find sellers wanting to retire or change their investments. We want to take advantage of those opportunities when they come along. This one was more driven by the desire of the seller, and we were happy to take a look at it."

C&K Market holdings reach from Willamina in the northern Willamette Valley to Cloverdale, Calif., in Sonoma County and east to Prineville.

"Over the years, we've found single stores where the owner had no succession plan or exit strategy, or maybe we provided a better option. The past few years, we've been a little more conscious of making moves because of the credit market and shaky economy," Nidiffer said. "We're in areas where there was a lot of unemployment and little optimism. But things are looking better, and we're cautiously optimistic that the economy is slowly coming around."

The company has more than 1,500 employees and typically has 50 in a given store. While Ray's has some 45,000-square-foot — or slightly larger — stores, the average is closer to 35,000 square feet, said Nidiffer, who knows a thing or two about competing head-to-head with a Walmart superstore.

"When Walmart came to Eagle Point, it took a big chunk of our business when it first opened," he said. "Gradually, we built it back and have somewhat recovered. We found things we could offer in contrast to the competition and established a niche. Our people have done a good job of running the store."

Walmart arrived about three years before Ron and Sue Ridgway bought Rick's Market from Rick Allen in 1996, five years after a new storefront was built across the parking lot. Steve and Susan Chan acquired the 1.21-acre property from Allen for $1.135 million in 2003.

Like its predecessor, Rick's Market, Tark's knew its customers and responded accordingly. "We learned from all of them," Ridgway said. "We listened to what they wanted and tried to procure whatever it was for them. It seemed to work, because when we would bring in something for one customer, it worked for others. They guided our merchandising."

At one time the Ridgways considered expanding, but a thorough study revealed the store was the right size for the town. When Walmart announced it was packing up and moving up South Pacific Highway, the Ridgways decided to make some changes and updated equipment.

"We had a plan that we were implementing," he said. "We had to work within a tight budget, but we were making it work."

Tark's has 35 employees, all of whom will be invited to interview with Ray's, said Ridgway, a former retail consultant for United Grocers who admits he's ready for life in the slow lane.

The responsibility of making payroll, paying bills and keeping on top of shopper tastes is demanding and he's ready for a break.

"Since this has come up haven't had time to take a breath," Ridgway said. "I'm not someone to sit at home and totally retire, but whatever I do it will be less stressful. We'll be running right up to the wire, and we've got a lot to wrap up. After 16 years of owning a store, cleaning out your cupboards is a scary proposition."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email business@mailtribune.com.

Tark's Market in Talent has been sold to C&K Market Inc. of Brookings and will become a Ray's Supermarket. - Jamie Lusch