This week marks 50 years since Bob Slone started running his first grocery store.
It's been a career marked with ups and downs as Lexington's most famous independent grocer has seen his company grow only to struggle later because of big-box retailers that offer lower prices based on their purchasing power.
"At one time, I had six stores here in Lexington," Slone recalled Tuesday. "Thanks to Kroger, I now have one."
Slone has been operating groceries since he bought his first operation, which was smaller than a convenient store, in 1960 on South Broadway near Waller Avenue. At that time, it was MRS, an acronym for Murray, Reed and Slone. He moved on eight years later to buy a store on Southland Drive that still bears his name.
"That was back in the days when there were a lot of independent stores in Lexington," he said. "At that time, there were probably 40 good independent stores in Lexington.
"Today we are about all that's left."
Slone operates four other stores under the Slone's Signature Market banners in Jackson, Grayson, Olive Hill and Morehead. Three of those don't have in-city competition from big-box grocers. The one that does, in Morehead, faces off against Kroger and Walmart, but is downtown instead of on the bypass, Slone said.
"We've been able to not only withstand it, but grow it," he said, noting it's his second largest store by volume, trailing Jackson. The Lexington store, on Southland Drive, is the fourth-largest in volume.
Looking back, Slone said his company, which dealt with bankruptcy protection about a decade ago after the onslaught of competition, "took too long to try to find a niche that we could operate in with the big boxes."
"I think today we found by putting an emphasis on service and our meats and delis that those are areas where we feel we can do a better job than the big-box stores do," he said.
And the 71-year-old grocer said he has no plans to retire soon: "I still enjoy going to work, I still enjoy the business and still enjoy the people."