Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Please Be Careful Out There Driving

Most people who drive through the intersection near the store are aware of the visibility issues when making turns at the intersection.   A driver really needs to look both ways several times to be sure there is no approaching traffic before making a turn either direction onto Homer Road when coming from either direction of Ohio Route 661.  One really needs to take a long, hard look also before entering the intersection from Homer Road after stopping at the stop sign.

This past weekend and the weekend before that, unsuspecting drivers were involved in traffic accidents at the intersection of Ohio Route 661 and Homer Road (County Road 19).  Both accidents involved motorists making turns onto Homer Road from Ohio 661 and turning into the path of an oncoming vehicle approaching from the opposite direction on Ohio 661.  This seems to be happening all too frequently, and most often on bright, sunny afternoons.

Ohio Route 661 is a two-lane, rural highway that runs between Granville (south of Homer) and Mount Vernon (north of Homer).  There are traffic signs warning of the intersection and also speed limit signs that reduce the speed from 55 to 45 mph as motorists approach the intersection from either direction on Ohio 661.  Also, there are "suggested speed limits" of 25 mph posted, although these cannot be enforced legally, they are a good idea for the defensive driver to observe.  Motorists on Homer Road must stop at the intersection, but those traveling on Ohio 661 do not stop at the intersection (they are strongly urged to go much slower than the posted 45 mph speed limit).

Due to the slope and curvature of the roads at the intersection, it is not always possible to see a vehicle approaching the intersection from either direction on Ohio 661, depending on how far away the vehicle is.   So if a motorist is making a turn from Ohio 661 onto Homer Road, they might slow down and glance at the oncoming lane and make a quick turn when it appears the coast is clear, when actually a vehicle is about to appear out of the dip in the road, leaving the motorist no reaction time to avoid a collision. 

If possible, it is a good idea to stop at the intersection and wait until you actually see a vehicle, let it pass, and watch all the while to see if another vehicle becomes visible at the exact spot where you first could see the last approaching vehicle, before making your turn or entering the intersection.   If there are cars behind you, at least use your turn signal far enough in advance and begin to watch the oncoming traffic so you will know when it is safe to make the turn.   That way you can be sure whether or not a car is approaching but maybe not yet visible due to the slope and curvature of the Ohio Route 661.  If the oncoming vehicle is going faster than the posted speed limit, it makes this situation even more dangerous as neither motorist has time to avoid the collision.

We who travel these roads frequently are hoping that the Ohio Department of Public Safety will do something more to improve the safety of the intersection before more people are injured or even killed.   Over twenty years ago, after a fatality at the intersection, local residents petitioned the government to do something about the safety of the intersection.  There was a construction project meant to overcome the issues of visibility by changing the slope of the road at the points where it was deemed to be problematic.   I was not in this community at the time, but the locals tell me that the project was not completely successful and that it seems to have made the problem of visibility even worse than before the project. 

We are still praying for the recovery of the four people injured last weekend at this intersection and for the peace and comfort of their families as they suffer through the ordeal of hospitalization of their loved ones.  We also are praying for the motorist in the other car who was not injured but was cited for the accident (failing to yield).  Our whole community is saddened by this unfortunate accident as well as the one the previous weekend involving a car and a motorcycle.

So, please come and go safely when you visit Homer!  If you come to the store, please park in the parking lot near the white fences that are marked with signage for "Customer Parking Only".  It is much safer to park there in the gravel parking area than to pull head-first up to the store building where your vehicle could be hit if there would happen to be a collision at the intersection.

Please never stop or park your vehicle along the berm of Ohio 661 because you will be obstructing the line of vision for those motorists trying to enter the intersection from the Homer Road stop sign on the corner next to the store.  All of us in the community try to enforce this simple act of being a safe and courteous motorist.  Please forgive me in advance as I will ask you to move your vehicle if you park along the berm for any reason.  Please forgive me also as I strictly enforce "customer parking only" in the store's meager parking lot.  We need plenty of room for the store's customers to maneuver safely in and out of the parking lot onto Ohio 661 or onto Homer Road.  If you are not shopping in the store, your vehicle has no business in the parking lot.  Period.  Thanks for understanding.  Please be safe, drive defensively, and don't be in a hurry!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Have I Thanked You Lately?

I want to thank all my loyal customers, friends, and family who have supported me and the store during my journey over the last seven and one half years!  Some of you have only discovered the store or me recently...many others have been with me over the long haul.  I sincerely thank you for standing by me through thick and thin.

I am a retail merchant.  I have to say that out loud to believe it.  This is not something I really ever dreamed of being.  This is something I have become.  And it has not been easy. 

This is not my first foray into retail....exactly.    Once I worked for a major retail corporation....but I was a cog in the wheel of the corporate finance department.  I had a bird's eye view of the merchandising decisions, the successes and failures, the plans and executions.  I shared in the excitement of the marketing fervor and the reality of the numbers.  I got a free turkey at Thanksgiving and free cookie cutters and candles at Christmas.  I got an expense account to purchase and wear the company "uniform" of designer clothing.  The really great thing about working as a cog in the wheel....was I didn't have to work weekends and holidays as do most retail employees.

Also I once was married to a retail chain store owner. That was something new for both of us and we both changed our careers for his new opportunity.  That is when I realized that retail means working nights, weekends, and holidays.  It meant staying up late to be sure the payroll got processed and the checks got printed and the taxes got paid.  It meant following up on thefts and embezzlements and robberies.  It meant real estate ownership and leases and more taxes and dealing with partners, suppliers, landlords, and lawyers.  Sounds like headaches.

But the joy in all of this was the people who patronized the establishments and the employees who poured their hearts and souls into pleasing the customers.   It is no different for me today in my micro-business, as I like to call it.  You have heard of "small business," well, mine is a micro-business. 

I digress.

I am so grateful to all of you, and you know who you are, who have gone out of your way to shop in the store when you need something for lunch, dinner, or just a snack.  I am grateful to those of you who have stopped in even when you didn't really need to buy anything, but just wanted to say hello and catch up on how things are going.  Many of you are local area residents.  You may have jobs in other towns or cities and plenty of shopping alternatives on your way to or from work or school.  I really appreciate your support.

Please know that I seriously want to offer the community a store where they can find what they need at the right price and when they need it.  I spend countless hours and plenty of money trying to get the best quality products at the best price on the store shelves and in the coolers and freezers.

The sad news is that we live in a small town, and the population is insufficient to support a grocery store if the only needs served are for those occasional purchases of that one consumable or perishable that people run out of once a week or once a month.   You know what I'm talking about....that lemon to squeeze on tonight's fish dinner that you bought at the big box store.....or the coffee creamer you used up over the weekend....or the loaf of bread or gallon of milk.....or the can of cat food or that roll of toilet paper....or that fix for your sudden sweet tooth. 

Keep in mind, that on a gallon of milk that costs $4, the supplier gets $3.85 for the milk, and the store gets fourteen cents for keeping it cold and standing around waiting for a customer.  Usually I give away more milk than I sell.  Same with bread.  For that $2.59 loaf of bread, the store makes about 40 cents, and I give away more than I sell.   It would take a very large population of occasional bread and milk shoppers to make this worthwhile for a small store to be selling bread and milk.  But I have it here for you in case you need it.  Yes, I lose money on milk, bread, fresh vegetables, baking supplies, crackers, cookies....pretty much, anything perishable.  At some point, I may have to stop carrying these products.  That is not something I want to see happen.  Also worth mentioning is that the county health department charges several hundred dollars a year for the store to be "licensed" to sell refrigerated food and another couple hundred a year for the store to have a food service license.  This is the same fee that a 24,999 square foot grocery store pays annually.

The good news is that the store is located on a busy commuter highway between Granville, Newark, Johnstown, Mount Vernon, and points north such as Loudenville, Bellville, and Mansfield..  Most of my customers are just passing through on their way to or from work or school, or they are working in this vicinity doing farming, landscaping, construction, distribution, or other skilled trades.  Many customers are just out exploring and are intrigued by the little store in our picturesque, remote, agricultural community.   I spend countless hours and plenty of money trying to please those customers as well.  We carry many unique products such as specialty foods to satisfy the curiosity seekers as well as the many convenience products to satisfy all the commuters seeking a meal, snack, or beverage.

More good news.  Some of my local customers actually shop for a day or a week's worth of groceries at the store.  You know who you are, and I appreciate you very much.   I would love to have more locals shopping here.  You know you can buy local and regional specialty foods, meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, bread, vegetables, fruit, pasta, bread, sauces, baking supplies, gourmet foods, hardware, household cleaning products, personal care products, pet food, ice, batteries, tobacco, pop, juice, tea, coffee, alcoholic beverages, you-name-it.  So far, my prices are not as high as most "convenience stores" for these types of products.  Granted, they are not as low as Walmart or the Dollar Store, but please consider the convenience, personal service, small store-convenient access and short distance--and the support of your local community tax base.  You save not only time but also cost of gasoline and contribute to the good of the community to have a local store available.

Recently, thanks to the votes of the residents in this township, despite the "dry" status of the township concerning the legality of the sale of alcoholic beverages since 1921, Homer Village Market has been authorized to sell beer and wine, including beer on Sundays as of February 2014.  This has huge implications for the possible survival of the tiny store in this sparsely populated area of the county.  It is still too early to tell, but the prospects of success look promising at this stage.  We are only a couple of months into this new endeavor, and I am still trying to learn the needs and desires of the customers who might purchase alcoholic beverages.  Even so, I am encouraged by the number of new customers coming into the store to purchase these new products!  It will take a great deal of support from these new customers to make this a "going concern" so to speak.

Once again, with alcohol and tobacco sales, the government fees are high, and the profit for the store owner is low, and the costs of carrying these products is high.  Let's hope this will give the store a sufficient revenue and profit flow to stem the losses and ensure a bright future!  Here's a reality check:  For every $100 of cigarettes sold, the store makes about $7 to help pay for the annual $125 cigarette license fee.  For every $100 of beer sold, and $100 of wine sold,  the store makes about $20 and $33, respectively, to pay toward keeping the beer cold and wine stocked and to pay for the annual renewal of the $628 license fee. (This is the same fee that Walmart and the big gas station convenience stores pay for their much larger volume of annual alcoholic beverage sales.). Keep in  mind the government can raise these fees at any time with the stroke of a pen, as Ohio did raise the cigarette license fee from $25 to $125 just a few years ago.

Again, thanks to all of you who have been shopping in the store over the years and to date.  I am deeply grateful for your support.  Please continue to let me know what I can stock in the store to make your life easier, more fun, or more nutritious.   Personal service is something you will NOT find in the big stores most of the time.  That willingness to specially source for you the products that you want to buy is what I mean by "personal service".

 I can tell you from my personal experience shopping in our local smaller chain and independent stores, my requests always went unheeded.  Maybe I was asking too much.....or maybe, as I am learning now, from the perspective of a store owner, that sometimes it is just not possible to meet a customer's need and still make a profit.  After all, if a store cannot make a profit, it cannot exist.  There has to be some rational decision making about that.  It is difficult to tell a customer that you cannot meet their need.  Sometimes it is the only sensible decision in the long run, however.  It is particularly difficult knowing that many customers do not think, know, or care about supply and demand or the economics of pricing or scarcity or volume purchasing.  That's OK.  I do know their heart is in the right place and so is mine.  I make every effort to meet the needs of my customers.  Sometimes I meet those needs even though I lose money....In the short run.  I want to keep my customers and I want to earn more customers by treating them right!

Friday, April 18, 2014


Every Spring since 2010 when I first met John Wiley of Up the Lane Farm, I go to his blog and read his post entitled "Muddy Reflections."  If you live out in the country, and especially if you are a transplant from the city, you will probably appreciate and find humor in his clever post.

Here is the link to the blog post:

muddy reflections at Up the Lane Farm

Hope you are enjoying the thaw after this rough winter we had in 2014! 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pot Roasts, Stews, and Heating Up the Kitchen

Spring and Fall seasons are perfect for making long-simmering meals such as pot roasts and stews.  Cool mornings and chilly evenings lend themselves to a warm kitchen with the aroma of s delicious lunch or dinner in the oven.  It is so much fun to try new recipes and to improvise!

My favorite method for any style of pot roast, whether it be lamb, pork, beef, or even a whole chicken, is to use a dutch oven or heavy, covered roasting pan.  After browning the meat quickly on all sides, I place it in the roaster, preferably on a small rack.  So that the roast cooks in a moist heat, I add stock, broth, water, or a combination of liquids, often including wine or beer, depending on the flavors I want to impart.  I usually add a few quartered onions, carrots, potatoes and celery stalks for flavoring the stock.  I realize they will disintegrate long before the meat is tender, but what good flavor those roasted vegetables add to the stock!   About 45 minutes before the meat is tender, I add more root vegetables so they can be enjoyed with the roast.

My Spring pot roasts usually include lots of root vegetables and dried herbs and spices.  Making pot roasts in the late summer or fall usually means I have garden vegetables and fresh herbs on hand.  I love to add parsnips to a beef pot roast along with whole new potatoes and onions, studded with cloves, and fresh garlic and parsley.  Garden tomatoes, zucchini squash, and green beans are a wonderful addition to stews.

When garden vegetables are abundant, I love to make a dish called "cous-cous" using lamb shoulder.  Lots of stock (or even plain water) goes into the pot, which I place on a stove burner rather than to roast in the oven.  Fresh tomatoes, green and red bell peppers, carrots, a few cayenne peppers, onions, garlic, green beans, garbanzo beans (chick peas) zucchini and potatoes all simmer together.  Besides salt and pepper, a unique blend of spices including cumin, cilantro, cardamom, coriander, bay leaf, and turmeric gives this dish its middle-eastern style and flavor.  Some prefer a sweeter version to which you add currants or raisins, a handful of pine nuts, and a little bit of cinnamon.   Fresh cilantro is added when the meat and vegetables have simmered at least an hour and a spoonful or two of tomato paste to thicken the sauce.  This North-African style of lamb stew is traditionally served over a semolina grain known as cous-cous which is readily available at most grocers.  This stew would also taste good with basmati rice in place of the traditional cous cous (coarsely ground semolina wheat).

When making a pot roast of stewed chicken, I like to use lots of carrots and celery, and usually add summer squash just before serving.  Paprika and turmeric add nice flavor and color to the chicken and the stock. My grandmother added a few spoonsful of sour cream to the stock before serving with mashed potatoes.   I like to roast separately a casserole of red, yellow, and green peppers and little red potatoes to serve with the roasted or stewed chicken.  Sweet potatoes and peas go well with a roast chicken and look so pretty!

Anytime you have a delicious pot roast, there will be lots of gravy.  If you do not manage to eat all that delicious sauce, you can use it to make leftovers the next day.  Simply shred the meat, add it to the gravy, make some wide noodles, and sauté some fresh onions and garlic to add to the mixture.  A tossed salad would be great to have while waiting for those noodles to get tender.  Another option would be to use the leftover meaty-sauce over a heaping plate of mashed potatoes, over a large baked potato, or over steamed rice with a side of steamed broccoli or green beans.

Vegetable stews such as ratatouille are good to make when garden vegetables and herbs are abundant.  This can be layered into a deep casserole in the oven or made in a pot on the stovetop.  It also has lots of sauce, which is nice served over brown rice.  Sliced tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, garlic, and onions are the stars of this dish and lots of basil for flavor and color.  Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top gives it additional flavor.  Feta is nice too.  This dish is a feast for the eyes as well as the palate!

I have a long, shallow roasting pan that is specially made for roasting one or more large, whole fish in the oven.  Flavors of dill, parsley, peppercorns, sliced lemons, and green onions are my favorite additions to the pot.  A broth of water mixed with a little bit of dry white wine works well with most roast fish.  Red potatoes, pearl onions, and asparagus make a nice presentation for serving.  I would not have even thought about owning my own fish roasting pan had it not been for that memorable dinner with my friend Ivars and his parents at his Latvian grandmother's house in Columbus, Ohio, in 1975.  I will never forget that gathering around the table with the several large, whole roast fish with flavorful broth and sliced lemon, plenty of  buttered potatoes, crusty rolls,  and a cool and crisp green salad with tomatoes.

Although yesterday was quite warm for early April, with temperatures in the 70's, today it snowed and tonight will fall into the twenties.  I know that when I get off work tonight, I'll be preheating the oven as I prepare some vegetables for roasting.   While I'm working on preparing dinner, I'll be thinking about what to make for Easter!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Fools

The joke is on me, apparently.  Where did March go?  I see that I have not posted any updates since the end of February.  Perhaps I missed March entirely. 

I recall that March had many ups and downs in the weather and several natural disasters and other emergencies that grabbed everyone's attention. I recall a 60-car pileup on the Ohio turnpike due to slick roads and poor visibility.....I remember temps near 50 one day then below zero the next...65 degrees one day then snow the next.   Most recently, Earthquakes in LA, Mudslides in Washington, Skirmishes in the Ukraine, Obamacare deadline, local tragedies of boat capsizing at Buckeye Lake,  local tragedy of poisoned lab retrievers in their kennel, widespread sweeps by local authorities serving drug warrants, lots and lots of beer moving in the store...and then there were even a couple of days in a row that our flock of sheep escaped the pasture for "greener pastures" in the neighborhood.  Twice in March the store ran out of "Bud Light."  I am glad this did not cause a local tragedy such as a riot... 

Good riddance to March, I say!  Welcome April!

Looking forward to milder temperatures and blossoms. Not looking forward to the rain and mud that Spring brings every year.  Not looking forward to the income tax deadline.  Looking forward to Easter!

Here's hoping there will be lots of sunshine, daffodils, and happy times for everyone during April 2014!