On June 24, 1967, the Johnson Bros. General Store, founded decades earlier by siblings Gunnar and Henning, closed for business in DuPont, according to historical records.
It was the last time a grocery store operated in the South Pierce County city.
For almost 46 years, DuPont residents have been forced to drive to Lacey, Lakewood or the commissary at Joint Base Lewis-McChord to shop for groceries.
The long dry spell will end in July when businesswoman Sandy Ikemeier opens the doors to the DuPont General Store on the ground floor of America’s Credit Union building in the heart of the city.
“This is a huge win for our residents who live here,” Mayor Michael Grayum said.
“It will be a perfect complement to everything we already have in our community,” he said.
Residents have long clamored for a grocery store, and the booming military community has plenty of mouths to feed. DuPont grew by 235 percent between 2000 and 2010 — the highest growth rate in the county — and today has about 9,000 people.
Still, grocers for years considered a project there too risky, and they bypassed DuPont for communities farther north and south on Interstate 5.
Ikemeier said her 3,000-square-foot store will focus on the basics: meats, produce, dairy and grains. Equipped with a full-size commercial kitchen, it also will sell homemade deli salads, soups and desserts as well as packaged sandwiches and tossed salads.
Seating will be available inside and outdoors. Prices, she said, will be competitive.
The store will pay homage to DuPont’s past with a vintage interior design, and Ikemeier said she’s working to display historical photos from the city museum.
She said she’s confident her business will thrive even though she’s entering waters last tested when Lyndon Johnson sat in the White House.
“I truly believe that the community is going to be very, very supportive,” she said. “I always plan for prosperity. That’s my nature. I’m not worried.”
Ikemeier, 45, of Steilacoom, previously owned the Cock-a-Doodle-Doo’s coffee stand in Tacoma and the Spanaway Fitness Center. She said her experience working at the Anderson Island General Store since 2010 has educated her on what local residents need “on the fly” when a trip to a supermarket is inconvenient.
The idea to open a grocery store took root last year when she visited a friend in DuPont. Someone forgot to bring rolls for the Easter holiday meal, and there was much reluctance to hop on I-5 to buy some.
“For the next few months every person I ran into, that’s all they would talk about,” she said, referring to the absence of a grocery.
Ikemeier signed a 10-year lease and plans to hire 15 employees.
Michael Rabstoff, owner of the two remaining commercial lots in DuPont’s urban center, spent a decade trying to land a grocery. He said Safeway rejected his offer to provide land for free in exchange for taking a percentage of sales from the store.
He said the opening of the DuPont General Store is terrific news for the city.
“I think that it will prove that the market is quite deep and active for an even bigger facility,” Rabstoff said. “Hopefully, she will be able to expand once she gets established and the market is proven.”
Crystal Esposito was happy to learn about the new business. As manager of the Trax at DuPont Station apartments across the street, she often hears from residents about the need for a grocery.
That holds true for military residents as well. The Lewis-McChord commissary is fairly close, she said, but the last thing a service member who lives in DuPont wants to do after a long day of work is return to base for a gallon of milk or a dinner ingredient.
Indeed, a 2011 survey of Lewis-McChord service members who live in DuPont found that 40 percent rated access to fresh and healthful food as poor or needing improvement. The percentage was higher than respondents living in Lacey, Lakewood, Olympia, Puyallup, Tacoma and Yelm.
Esposito expects the DuPont General Store to have a good run if it focuses on selling the basics.
“That’s all they (residents) really want,” she said. “They could care less about the extravagance.”Christian Hill: 253-274-7390 christian.hill@ thenewstribune.com @TNTchill