The new owner of the local Piggly Wiggly store is a familiar face.
Almost 26 years ago, Scott Neumann began working there.
He and his wife Lorrie became the owners Sunday, June 9, and the store is now called Neumann’s Piggly Wiggly.
Gary’s Piggly Wiggly closed at 6 p.m. the previous day, and Gary and Bonnie VandenBerg then signed off on the inventory.
“I’m really excited about the challenge. I just like everything about it – the people, the customers,” said Neumann.
He was 16 when he started working for VandenBerg in July 1987.
It was Neumann’s first job.
“One of my classmates called up and said the store was hiring, and I should come and apply, so I did,” Neumann said.
At that time, the grocery store was located where Office Outfitters now is.
“I was hired to clean the meat room, bag groceries and sort bottles,” Neumann said.
He recalled how customers returned empty soda bottles for deposits.
“Every corporation was different,” Neumann said. “One of my jobs was to go back in the bottle shed and make sure the right bottles were going back to the right company. I remember fighting a lot of bees back there.”
Neumann quickly realized how much he liked working in a grocery store.
His father, Mike, might have something to do with that.
“My father has always been in the grocery business,” Neumann said. “The reason I am here in Waupaca is because my dad was transferred here when they built the Copps store back in the ’70s. He, we were transferred from Fort Atkinson to Waupaca, where he was the Meat Department manager.”
Neumann remembers going to the store with his father and helping him straighten, or face, the meat case.
“Maybe that is where I got the grocery bug,” he said.
Neumann’s father is retired but works part time with his son at the store.
“I still look to him for advice from time to time,” Neumann said. “I like to think I inherited my customer service or people skills from him.”
Neumann worked at Gary’s Piggly Wiggly through his high school years, and as people left the store, he quickly progressed up the chain.
“Then you didn’t have to clean the meat room anymore,” he said.
The store was smaller, and he learned to do whatever needed to be done, from bagging groceries and stocking shelves to being a cashier and learning how to close the store.
Neumann was still in high school when he became a manager in charge of closing.
“It was great for me,” he said. “I was moving up the way I wanted to move up, because I liked it. I liked what I was doing.”
When he graduated from Waupaca High School in 1989, he asked VandenBerg if he could go full time at the store, and he did.
In October of that same year, the store moved to its present location on Fulton Street, and Neumann was appointed night time manager.
“I guess he saw something in me,” Neumann said of VandenBerg. “That was a big responsibility for an 18 year old.”
Neumann remembers it being tough to be the boss of high school classmates.
“It was a learning experience. I had to be tough with them,” he said.
In addition to VandenBerg, Neumann said he learned much about the grocery business from the late Ev Sommers.
“He originally had the little store downtown that Gary bought,” Neumann said. “When we moved up here, Gary hired Ev to help with the training.’
Sommers spent the winters in Texas and returned to Waupaca in the summer.
“So I worked 10 summers with him. I learned a lot. He was a successful grocer and businessman. He was hands on with me,” Neumann said. “When situations came up, he would help me through them. He was a good man. I learned a lot from him in the summers. He was old school. No goofing off. You were there to work. I always said he was very firm but fair. I like to think that is one of the things I learned from him.”
From VandenBerg, Neumann learned the financial side of the business and how to handle situations with people.
“With the exception of Gary, Ev was the second biggest influence on me,” Neumann said. “My mother tells me that when I was 18, at some point or around that age, that I had come home and said, ‘I’m going to own a grocery store.’ I don’t remember saying it.”
During his early years at the store, Neumann also met his future wife.
“Ev hired Lorrie,” he said.
The couple eventually married. They have one daughter – Brenna, who is 15.
In 1992, Neumann became the assistant store manager, and on Jan. 1, 2000, VandenBerg appointed him manager.
“I think I always knew I wanted to have it,” Neumann said of the store. “But, I didn’t think there would be an opportunity here, because Gary had two children. Jason and Amy both had worked here in the past in high school. I thought maybe one of them wanted to take it over.”
However, both have their own successful careers and did not want to get involved in owning the store, Neumann said.
“Being with Gary for so long, he knew my dedication,” Neumann said. “It’s been in the works a while. I look back and as many as five years ago, he had me sit in on the budget meetings.”
Originally, the plan was for Neumann to take ownership in May 2014.
“I think as it got closer, he decided to do it now,” Neumann said.
By selling the business to Neumann, VandenBerg knew the employees would remain, as would their wages and benefits.
About 80 people work at the store, and Neumann has worked with many of them for years.
“Gary will stay on as a consultant for a bit,” Neumann said.
As the owner of the store, he likes the freedom of being able to work with local farmers to bring their products into the store and says, “If there’s something out there people want, let me know. I’m going to try to get it in.”
He wants the store to appeal to everyone. It was Lorrie’s idea to add the dollar items. Neumann’s Piggly Wiggly also carries many organic and gluten-free items.
A grand opening and ribbon cutting are set for Wednesday, June 19, and from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday, June 20, there will be a live WDUX remote there, as well as a brat fry by the WHS Dance Team.
“I will be hands on. I’m looking forward to that,” Neumann said. “I enjoy walking around, talking to people, bagging groceries. Gary was always a big supporter of the community. I want to continue to do that. We will continue the Community Piggy Bank program, too.”