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Friday, January 22, 2021

From the Archives: Roy Pope still delivers

Roy Pope Grocery announced on its website that it will be closing soon. Here is a Fort Worth Business Press story from 2005 about the Fort Worth institution. 

Fort Worth Business Press (TX) – July 11, 2005

Neighborhood grocery in business since 1943 and going strong

Though grocery delivery is a “money losing deal,” Bob Larance keeps doing it because so many of his customers depend on it.

“We have a lot of older customers who are not able to get out,” he said. “And some that just don’t want to come to the store. It’s about customer convenience.”

Larance is the owner of Roy Pope Grocery on Merrick, just off Camp Bowie. Having been around since 1943, it is the last of its kind in town – a small, gourmet grocery store that still delivers. Ownership has passed through two generations of longtime store managers after the original owner, Roy Pope, died in 1967.

Frances Loffland, who has been a Roy Pope customer since the 1940s, says the $7 delivery service is indispensable for her. She lived in the Rivercrest area on Harley Avenue for much of her life, but due to severe arthritis recently moved to Broadway Plaza Healthcare Center, a long-term care home on Bryant Irvin Road.

“If my daughter doesn’t take me to shop I call and order,” she said. “I can’t get out and shop on my own anymore, so it’s perfect for me. To have my groceries still come from Roy Pope is wonderful.”

Larance and previous owner John LeMond have kept the store and its operations virtually the same since Pope’s death, adding new gourmet and mom-and-pop-produced products along the way.

“We’ve had such a close relationship,” Larance said. “That’s why we’ve been able to continue the way we have.”

And since many of the customers are second or third generation shoppers – following in their parents’ footsteps – they are like friends, he says.

“It’s like talking to your friends all the time,” he said. “Our customers are not just a number coming through a line.”

That’s the main reason, Larance says, that he stayed in the grocery business. He came on the staff to help out LeMond, his father-in-law, with the store’s operations. He was working in finance and insurance in Edmond, Okla., when he took the job as store manager in 1975. In 1990, Larance and his wife, Renee, bought the store.

Larance keeps the gourmet products integrated on the same shelves with the mainstream products because of a job he had in high school.

“I worked a summer job in a grocery store that had a section of gourmet products,” he said. “I noticed that no one shopped that aisle. They just passed it by.”

Larance says the store’s success is based on offering “the best of the best.”

“We can’t afford to have 100 of something because of limited space, so we’re not going to have 100 olive oils, but we’re going to have the 10 or so best,” he says. “We listen to our customers and sell what they want.”

Loffland says the food in the store is the freshest in town and that Roy Pope is the only store of its kind.

“Before Roy Pope, the only grocery store in Fort Worth that carried the gourmet products was Turner and Dingee, south of First Methodist Church on West Seventh,” she said. “It was popular with people who worked downtown; it imported different merchandise like wonderful sauces and jellies and anything we call gourmet. At Roy Pope, Mr. Larance put out a lot of things that the Piggly Wiggly and Albertsons didn’t have. He’s known more or less as a gourmet grocer. He really goes for the wonderful – he has wonderful vegetables and fruits and a gorgeous meat market and deli.”

He sells many products not typically offered in other stores, such as Dean & Deluca coffee, Mighty Leaf Tea, and dozens of products offered by small, sometimes one-person, home-operated companies.

“I like to deal with those kinds of people,” he said. “The quality is better. It’s not just profit, profit, profit.”

Some of these products are Austin Spice Co., New Canaan Farms, Bee Cave Honey, One World Foods, Gundelsheim, Haddon House, Bahlsen, DeCecco, Bella Cucina, Goddards, Near East and LaMartinique. The store even cans its own lines of gourmet preserves, jellies, vegetables, pickles, salsas, salad dressings and more.

Larance is so confident in the superiority of his store’s products, he says, that he hasn’t even ventured inside what may be his biggest competition: Central Market.

“I never go to other stores,” he said. “I never need to.”

He visits the Dallas Farmers Market to purchase produce occasionally, but mostly buys directly from farmers. He buys primarily from farmers in Fort Worth, South Texas, Georgia and Parker County.

He says he’s constantly trying to get more products into the store, but can only do so much with 6,000 square feet.

“Space is a big issue,” he said. “We’re working on expanding it.”

Larance said that, although he has loyal clientele and is filling a niche for upscale products, the more of any kind of grocery stores that open, the worse business could potentially get.

“There are only so many food dollars spent,” he said. “That’s the nature of the beast. “

Aside from offering unique, gourmet, and fresh items that his customers ask for, Larance says, he keeps customers happy by not making them wait in line.

“I never want two people standing in line,” he said. “I just don’t want that. Everyone drops what they’re doing and takes care of the customers first. All the behind-the-scenes stuff doesn’t make a hill of beans difference if customers aren’t happy.”

Larance says his own grown children have no interest in running the store, so when he passes it on it will be to another trusted employee. There is almost no turnover at the store – some people have worked there for 35 years or more – making it as much of an institution to its employees as it is to its customers.

“I’m totally satisfied with all of the people who have owned and who run that store,” said Loffland. “It started way back there with Mr. Roy Pope. He passed away quite some years ago and when he did, that store maintained that service.”

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