Support local: Shop local campaign supports Fitch’s IGA
Anyone who has lived in Wilmore for long knows Leonard Fitch. He’s the amiable man who hands out free watermelon slices at the town’s Fourth of July festival, has served on the City Council for 50 years and owns the only grocery in town.
His family has operated Fitch’s IGA for six decades, but it’s always in danger of closing because Nicholasville and Lexington are so close, and the big supermarkets can undercut his prices.
Fitch said last week he’s not making a profit.
“I’ve put a lot of my own money back in the business,” said Fitch, who will be 80 in May. “We’re making it on donations, and a lot of the donations are ours.”
As they often have over the years, some townspeople are trying to help the business owner who has helped so many of them in many ways.
A Facebook user by the name of Pamela Denise last month issued a challenge on a Wilmore Facebook buy/sell page to urge the town’s residents to commit to spending at least $10 a week at Fitch’s, which she calculated would bring in $30,000 weekly. That’s about the amount Fitch said he needs to generate to keep the store open.
“If you don’t know the Fitch family’s heart and can’t convince yourself to contribute for the simple reason of caring for those who have cared for us, then do it for yourself,” another friend, Denise Bailey Adams, said on the Facebook page. “If I had to run to Nicholasville every time I need just one thing I forgot to get on my first trip to IGA, I would waste a lot of time and gas money.”
Susanne Cochran said she and her family like the convenience of being able to go to the local store to get “a gallon of milk, some fresh lettuce, the cheapest meat around …”
Erin Werner Gibson, who owns and manages Solomon’s Porch, a coffee shop and deli across the street, said she does 95 percent of her shopping at the IGA and that the business is always open to stocking things she needs for the restaurant.
Last Friday, Fitch said he knew nothing about the social media challenge, but had noticed his sales had increased by about $500.
“I hadn’t heard of it, but I sure appreciate it,” he said. “I appreciate them, every one. I do want to be here. I’ve worked all my life right here.”
Fitch’s father opened the store in December 1956 at another location, then built the structure the grocery is in now at the corner of Main Street and the street that separates Asbury University from Asbury Seminary.
“We feel that we’ve got something to offer, a place that they can come in and feel at home and visit,” Fitch said.
The business is something of a community center as well as a grocery. Bluegrass musicians come in and perform once a month, there’s a Bible study in the back room every Thursday, and the store hosts other community events.
Sharon Black, a customer who lives in Nicholasville but works at a bank in Wilmore, said she shops there every week and comes over every Friday morning to buy donuts for the bank employees.
Black said Fitch quietly supports people who are hungry or in need.
“He’s had a big impact on this community,” she said.
Black said customers may find some items for less at big-box grocery stores, but “you’re not going to get the customer service” that Fitch’s offers, he said.
He has also given teenagers their first jobs and helped college students and others who need work.
Last Friday morning, Andrea Devole, a young newlywed and community college student who works as a cashier at IGA, cheerfully greeted customers who came in, offered them donuts and asked how their day was going.
“I really like working here,” she said. “I worked at Kroger before I came here, and I left because I was just a number. Leonard treats me like a person.”
She said she took a pay cut to work for IGA because it was a better environment.
“I know a lot of people who come here by name … and I know what’s going on in their lives,” she said. “I’m so grateful it’s a Christian faith sort of business. … It’s not uncommon for people to come in and need a prayer, who need someone to talk to, and I really appreciate that Mr. Fitch allows me to have that freedom.”
Fitch said Tuesday he thinks the Facebook challenge is making a difference.
“We probably brought in a thousand more last week than the week before,” he said. “It is making a difference.”