As the clock struck midnight on Dec. 31, Barclay graduate Morgan Silva became the new owner of the brick and mortar mercantile affectionately known as “Vic’s.” Stocked with dry goods, tools, hardware and a wall of coolers, the renovated 1911 brick and mortar building on Main Street has become more than just your typical come-and-go shop since Vic Hannan opened it in 2005.
“The nearest place to buy groceries was Greensburg or Pratt and I thought a hardware store and grocery store, a place to buy candy and groceries could be a profitable venture,” said Hannan who, at first, almost gloated about the $10,000 purchase price but quickly mentioned the $40,000 he spent on roof repairs and fixtures. “It cost a lot more to open than I thought it was going to, but it was fun.”
Hannan returned home just a few years prior after spending his adult life in Lincoln, Neb. He said he wanted to leave the “big city” and came back to Haviland after purchasing land from his elementary school teacher.
“I felt at the time and I still feel this way, Haviland needs a service like this,” said Hannan. “It’s pretty cool that people can come in and buy almost any item they need. I’d like to think it’s a fun place to come to sit, drink coffee, talk about what’s happening and see friends.”
Silva, a 20-something mother of two, began working at the store while finishing her psychology degree at nearby Barclay, a Quaker university based in Haviland.
She came to Haviland with her sons from Wyoming, though she said she is originally from Montana.
“I wanted a job that would allow me to have more time with my kids and go to school,” she said. “Vic was really flexible, allowing me to take care of the kids and take classes. It was nice because I could work close to home and not have to travel far.”
She completed her degree last May and was accepted into a master’s degree program at Friend’s University in Wichita, but she decided not to go.
“When I graduated I was trying to figure out what to do next. I had a bunch of different options and some other job opportunities. I just couldn’t find peace in any of those choices. I decided to stay. I met a really great guy so I figured I would keep working for Vic. I was happy doing that.”
Hannan said he first mentioned the idea to Silva about six months ago.
“We talk a lot, because she’s a great listener,” laughed Hannan, “ I told Morgan if she was interested in taking over the store she could have it.”
Page 2 of 4 - “At first I thought ‘no way,’ but I kept it in the back of my mind,” said Silva. “It took a little time for me to get comfortable with idea, but I brought it up to Vic and asked him how serious he was about it.”
She said there were lots of “someday” and “sometime” conversations between the two of them. “Then all of a sudden it was ‘how about on January first you take over?’
Hannan said it was always his intention to eventually sell the business to someone else. But over the six years he’s owned it, the criteria changed. It was no longer just about a “buyer” but it became about the “right buyer.” he said.
With only two retail businesses left on Main Street, the hardware store and Origin’s Coffee House, Hannan said he wanted someone who could run the business and keep it open.
“I had a few people express an interest in purchasing the store,” he said. “But I didn’t think the few people I talked to would be enthusiastic about the store. I didn’t think they would be willing to put in the hours or would be able to handle the problems associated with running the store. I see those abilities in Morgan. I see them in her, I really do. I am excited for her. It’s not going to be easy. I’m hoping people in the community give her a chance.”
Hannan didn’t hold back, gushing about Silva who, only a few weeks ago, was his employee but is now his boss. “She’s the coolest person to work for,” said Hannan, smiling ear-to-ear. “She’s a cool person. She knows what needs to be done. She’s a natural. She’s been a pleasure and everyone likes her. If there is anyone who has a chance of finding success taking the store over, it’s her.”
Not unlike other small town retailers, Haviland Hardware is trying to drive business back to local stores.
Hometown grocers have been hit the hardest. Most large retailers can provide a “one stop” shop for groceries and home goods and reduced pricing through large-scale purchasing at “super centers.”
National retail chain stores like Wal-Mart and Dillons have locations less than 30 minutes away.
“I wasn’t raised like that,” said Hannan when asked about “bottom dollar” retail shopping. “My mother always bought her groceries locally. Even if a ‘super center’ existed, she would have bought her groceries locally. She knew the owner and she knew she needed to do those things to keep the community going. If we don’t take care of the people who have a store in the community, they will leave. I wish people would honestly ask themselves ‘what kind of support do they offer their local stores?’”
Page 3 of 4 - Hannan said the bottom dollar shouldn’t be the only factor when deciding on a purchase. “I only buy gas at the Haviland Co-op. We need the co-op. I don’t care what the price is somewhere else.”
He also wanted to remind people in the community that Silva lives in Haviland, has two small boys and when people spend money at the hardware store “the money is going to stay here.”
As a Barclay student and a new member of the community, Silva said she was initially influenced by rumors in town about the local grocery store and its prices.
“I’d always heard people say that ‘oh Vic’s is too expensive’ or ‘everything is out of date.’ There are perceptions people have of the store. But once I came in and looked around I realized those things weren’t true.”
Silva will purchase the fixtures and inventory and rent the storefront from Hannan who will remain the owner of the building.
The expenses for Silva will be significant. Both her and Hannan agree that without increased local support, the long-term future of the store is questionable.
“We want to keep our regular customers happy and meeting their needs,” she said. “We also need to find ways to bring in new customers, meet their needs and let them known what we carry. I like being able to get things for people if I can. That is one of the great things about a small town store. We can get things that other stores can’t. We can tailor our inventory to fit our customers.”
Silva said that one of the best things about having a grocery store in town is accessibility.
She had been the owner for less than one day when she got an emergency call from a local resident.
“They needed cough medicine for their child,” she recalled. “The roads were really bad and they couldn’t drive. We opened for them. If we don’t have regular support we won’t be here when things like that happen. We won’t be here in those times of need.”
Her first year is sure to be a challenging one, quietly admitting that she’d never taken a business class. But Silva understands that the people of Haviland and her former boss have entrusted her not just with a business, but with an integral part of the community.
“I’ve got to meet all these different people,” she said. “It’s pretty neat that there is a place in town for all of them to come together. Sometimes people come in and just need someone to talk to. I really enjoy talking with people and getting to know them.”
Page 4 of 4 - Silva has already made some changes, recently becoming a Woman, Infants and Children (WIC) provider.
The WIC program, part of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, assists low-income families with young children and infants with grocery expenses. “I think it’s really necessary and great. There are a lot of new moms in Haviland. It supports healthy families with healthy food,” said Silva.
She plans on expanding their sandwich selection, which have seen some success of late and is thinking of diving into the soup business later in the year. “I work during the day, so I know what it is like being here at lunchtime without a lot of options.”
Possibly the biggest change will come not from Silva, but from her customers who, for the past five years, have called it “Vic’s.”
“We’ve had a couple of people try to say ‘we’re going to Morgan’s.’” laughed Silva. “That one might take a while.”