Schnucks celebrates 30 years in Cape

Saturday, November 18, 2006
Mary Jane Maxwell, a 30-year employee of Schnucks, reacted as she cut the ribbon during Schnucks anniversary ceremony at the Cape Girardeau store on Friday. The store opened Nov. 16, 1976. (Diane L. Wilson ~

When Sharon Van Der Wel took a job as an overnight checker at the brand-new Schnucks grocery store in 1976, she had no idea that the grocery store -- or her job there -- would last for three decades.

But they did.

"I thought I'd probably be here two or three years," said Van Der Wel, now a bookkeeper and customer-service worker. "But it's been such a good place to work with great people. And, frankly, it was a good-paying job. Those aren't easy to come by, especially all in one place."

On Friday, the St. Louis-based grocery chain celebrated its 30th year in Cape Girardeau, honoring the store's longevity, loyal customers, longtime vendors and its employees, in particular the 11 who have been there since opening day -- Nov. 16, 1976.

The Schnucks store hosted a "rededication ribbon-cutting" reception, attended by current and former store employees, customers, local dignitaries, store manager Dennis Marchi and Craig Schnuck, the chain's executive committee chairman. Mayor Jay Knudtson and state Sen. Jason Crowell both read proclamations honoring the store's 30 years in business.

"It's a thank you to those who have supported us," said Marchi, who has been the store's high-profile manager since 1985. "We really want to thank our customers. They're the No. 1 reason why we're here."

Craig Schnuck, who attended the opening in 1976, said the Cape Girardeau store was a first for the company -- a combination grocery and drugstore that are commonplace today.

Initially, the store was a Schnucks-Walgreens, but the Schnucks family bought out Walgreens' interest five years later, though it added its own pharmacy after that.

"It was a brand-new concept for us," Schnuck said. "We wanted it to be in Cape Girardeau because we wanted a presence here. We knew customers would find it convenient, and it worked out. Every store we've opened since this one has been a combination food and drug store."

While Cape Girardeau wasn't the only market Schnucks considered, "this one has turned out to be wonderful for us," he said. "We wanted it to last at least 20 years, because we had a 20-year lease. But it's lasted 30 and we're confident it will last another 30 at least."

Knudtson called Schnucks a "great corporate citizen," giving special praise to Marchi.

"A team is only as good as its leader," he said. "And while Denny will stand up here and give compliments and thanks to all of you, he deserves a lot of the credit, too. He walks the walk and talks the talk. He is a man of class and professionalism."

Some recalled getting their start working at Schnucks. One example is Cape Girardeau City Councilman Charlie Herbst, who worked at the store in the mid- to late 1980s. Herbst remembers one co-worker in particular -- comedian and movie star Cedric the Entertainer, who attended Southeast Missouri State University.

"He was a bagger," Herbst said. "He was a real cut-up. Then he left and I was watching Comedy Central and it was him. And he worked right here at Schnucks."

Herbst said the overall history of Schnucks in Cape Girardeau is impressive.

"There are not a lot of retail stores -- and there are a lot of good ones -- that continue to improve their store and invest in it like Schnucks does," Herbst said. "When the market changes, so does Schnucks. They continue to get better. That's why they've lasted so long."

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