HURON — In 1978, an energetic high schooler applied for a job as a grocery bagger at what was then Randall’s Grocery Store.
This Saturday, 40 years later, Coborn’s assistant manager Jeff Houge, that energetic teenager, will bid farewell to the only job he’s ever had. There will be an open house retirement party for Houge, from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, for anyone who wants to come and say goodbye.
“Forty years,” Houge said earlier this week. “I’ve been the assistant manager for the past 25 years, but I really wanted the challenge of doing something new and different.”
Houge will become the new operations manager for Dak Pak, the nutritional supplement company headquartered in Woonsocket. “I’m 56 years old,” Houge said. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could do something different.”
Through his high school years, Houge was a bagger, and a stocker/checker for the Randall’s store, which was located in the building that Lewis Drug now occupies.
“When I started at Huron College, I became a stock crew supervisor,” Houge recalled, “working nights and going to school in the day.” Upon his college graduation in 1984, he was promoted to the manager of the frozen foods and in 1987, he was named the scanning coordinator.
“Randall’s was one of the first 100 stores in the world to begin using scanning technology in the store,” he recalled. “We were cutting edge at the time.” As the scanning coordinator, he was in charge of making pricing changes to all of the thousands of items in the store. When Randall’s store manager Don Farmer departed, Kevin Schiele, who had also begun work as a bagger a handful of years before Houge started, was named the new store manager. Houge was named assistant manager shortly afterward.
And what about his duties?
“Well, an assistant manager does just a bit of everything,” Houge said with a smile. “Working with Kevin was great and being involved in the new store was so exciting.”
Over his career, Houge has seen several changes in the grocery business, but what has remained the same is his affinity for his co-workers and the customers who come in the store.
“Over the past 40 years, I have been fortunate enough to get to know customers, and have seen them have kids and now those kids have kids. And in a way, they are all family to me. They and the people with whom I have been able to work. They have all meant so much to me.”
Houge said that there has been a change in the products that are carried. “There are more and more healthy foods; so many choices. When I started there wasn’t anything like ‘low salt,’ or ‘fat free.’ There is a fresh foods section and organic foods as well.”
One of his favorite memories of the old store was how the cafeteria was a popular place. “I don’t know why it was, but the Randall’s cafeteria was the place to meet. Everyone would come and have coffee and socialize.”
While he is eager for his new challenge, Houge knows that he will miss seeing the faces with whom he has become familiar over the past 40 years.
“I don’t even think that I can ever explain how hard that is going to be — to not see my family here. But I am due for a change.”