Allen’s of Hastings will close at 3 p.m. Sunday for inventory. By the time it reopens as usual at 7 a.m. Monday (and thank heavens for that), an era in our community’s retail history will have come to an end.
For Georgene Allen and her family, the change is personal. While the Allen’s name will remain, they no longer will be the owners and operators of the multifaceted enterprise Georgene and her late husband, Robert M. Allen, established in downtown Hastings 62 years ago.
But the Allens are not the only ones for whom this change will be personal.
Although many Allen’s employees will continue working at the business under the new owners, B&R Stores Inc., it’s clear that they already consider themselves a large work family — and that family includes the Allens themselves, who have been not just their bosses, but also their co-workers and friends, in some cases for decades.
Several longtime employees also will be making their exit from the business at this juncture, whether for retirement or to pursue other opportunities. That’s another change and loss the group will have to absorb.
Now, think of the shoppers themselves. Even though they will still have access to the Allen’s store, The Wine Cellar and all the goods and services available there, come Monday, something important will have changed for them, too.
I’ve lived in the Hastings trade area all my life (50 years in a couple of months) and have known about the Allen’s store since I was a little boy. I have one particularly vivid memory of buying a red water pistol there as a youngster, preparing for a visit by my cousins from Colorado. (I still have it somewhere. Don’t tell my wife.)
My grandmother lived here in town and did most of her grocery shopping at Safeway on Burlington Avenue (later the site of Russ’s IGA and then Russ’s Market) or at the old Hilltop Jack ‘n’ Jill on 14th Street, which was near her home.
But when I moved to Hastings myself in 1992 to work for the Tribune, my first apartment was a tiny, converted one-car garage near Third Street and Bellevue Avenue. That’s when Allen’s became “my” store; I just walked my groceries the one block home in my arms.
In the early 1990s, Allen’s had many more competitors for local residents’ grocery business.Russ’s, SunMart at the Imperial Mall, Econofoods on South Burlington and the Jack ‘n’ Jill store on Elm Avenue are the ones I remember. (Walmart didn’t include a supermarket at that time.)
But although I’ve had five subsequent addresses in Hastings over my 28 years in the community, I’ve always stuck with Allen’s as my primary store. That tradition now extends to my wife and two kids.
We shop at both Allen’s and Russ’s frequently and appreciate what both stores have to offer. Each has its own strengths, and Hastings is fortunate to have both of them. Hardly a week goes by when Ruth and I have not visited both stores and made purchases.
For the Rauns, though — as for so many other families from Hastings and the surrounding region — Allen’s is a special place.
Allen’s of Hastings and the Hastings Tribune, my only employer since college graduation, obviously have had a long and mutually beneficial business relationship. My co-workers and I all appreciate that tremendously.
Far beyond that, however, I appreciate Allen’s for what it offers and the role it has played in community life.
I’ve always loved the idea of shopping in a store where you were liable to run into the people with their name on the door as you went about your business.
For example, you might find one of the Allens stocking greeting cards — or driving a forklift, or waiting on customers at the camera counter. It’s been a true family effort.
Once I even checked out in the grocery store behind Bob Allen himself, who pulled cash out of his pocket to pay for his purchases. I remember thinking, as if it had never before occurred to me: “Wow, he shops here, too!”
I’ve also admired the investments the Allens made in improving the store, as well as the premium they’ve always placed on keeping it clean for their customers. And I’ve been heartened by the stand they have taken through the years in support of independent, locally owned businesses everywhere.
Promotion-wise, July Jamboree is nothing short of a phenomenon — and in Hastings, it long ago achieved the status of no mere sales event, but a legitimate community celebration like the county fair (complete with a giant cow) that is “the place to be” to run into friends and neighbors.
As a retailer, you must know you’ve done something right when the people of your town are flocking into your store not just to find bargains, but for the social benefits of buying stuff from you.
For anyone who runs a business that serves thousands of customers per week, it must be daunting to have your own name up on the wall like the Allens do. If anything goes wrong and customers become unhappy with the store, by extension they may feel unhappy with YOU, too.
With that in mind, I look at the Allen’s logo as a reminder of how committed that family has been to providing customers with a good shopping experience, and how much they have cared.
B&R Stores has been a family enterprise through the years much like Allen’s, albeit on a larger scale. Also like Allen’s, B&R continues to put the name of its late co-founder, Russ Raybould, up in lights above the door of its Russ’s Market locations. It’s a sign of trust with their valued customers near and far.
Now, B&R will steward the Allen’s name in the Hastings business landscape, as well. We’re so fortunate this employee-owned Nebraska company is buying the Allen’s store as a going concern and retaining many of the same friendly faces we already associate with that place.
With that said: Thank you, Bob and Georgene, Kristin, Erik and Melanie, Bryant and Melissa. You Allens broke new ground for retail in Hastings and helped to feed, clothe and gather the people of our community and region over three generations. Thanks for being here for us all these years.
We will miss seeing you, but maybe we’ll run into you around town …
At Allen’s, perhaps?