Alex Rogalla, a long-time Orchard Market employee, purchased the stores from Gary Gerlach on Tuesday.
“You know, it's time to step up and do this,” said Rogalla, 47. “I have worked for these stores for various owners. I know them pretty well.”
His grocery career began 31 years ago when he was a junior at Fruitport High School. He got a carry-out job at the Fruitport store.
“I just stuck with it,” Rogalla said. “I worked through different departments, different challenges, learning and growing. I've always enjoyed working with the public.”
Rogalla said he plans no major changes at the stores now that he's in charge.
“Everything will pretty much stay as it is,” he said. “I want to kind of get my feet under me as the new owner. I know the operations end, but there's plenty still to learn. We just want to keep being that hometown store that delivers service and builds a relationship with our community.”
Gerlach, 65, will stay on for a year as a consultant. He will trade his 50-hour-per-week grocery owner gig for a few hours a week as an independent consultant to help smooth the ownership transition.
Gerlach also said he plans to spend more time golfing, traveling and with his family, including his 18-month-old granddaughter, Ila, who lives in Maryland.
Gerlach's grocery career began much like Rogalla's — as a bagger in his hometown of Coloma in southwestern Michigan. He worked for independent grocers, corporate stores and wholesale markets.
“I worked my way up the ladder,” Gerlach said.
In 2004, he purchased the Orchard Market stores in Spring Lake Township and Fruitport.
Gerlach said he's seen a lot of changes in his nearly half-century in the grocery business. Today's shoppers purchase more fresh produce and less canned goods, he said, and craft beers and speciality liquors are currently hot items.
“It used to be people paid with cash or checks,” he said. “Now, they swipe a lot more. People use debit cards or credit cards.”
Gerlach said he had other opportunities to sell the business, but he hand-picked Rogalla as his successor.
“I'm happy to give the opportunity to another individual that I think will do very well,” Gerlach said. “He's worked with me since 2001. He has been my key right-hand person for a long time. He's very loyal. I wanted him to have these stores.”