When Kathleen Wert retired from Penn State more than 20 years ago, the last thing she thought she’d be doing was working at Burkholder’s Country Market.
Now, at 87, it was one of the best decisions she’d made, Wert said.
The Rebersburg resident said it was a Saturday in August when she and her husband went to Burkholder’s and met with former owner Jesse Burkholder.
“He sat down and had coffee with us because he knew my husband, and asked how retirement was going,” Wert said. “I remember not being adjusted to it after just two years, and he said to me, ‘report here Monday morning.’ ”
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In August 1994, Wert started working at Burkholder’s, agreeing to give it a six-week trial.
“I didn’t know about it at first, but I tried it and I ended up loving it,” she said.
Burkholder’s Country Market is a family-owned grocery store in Spring Mills that Burkholder opened in 1985 in downtown Millheim.
“The Millheim location built its reputation on selling bulk food items and fresh deli meats and cheeses,” said Russ Burkholder, Jesse’s son and a co-owner.
In 2013, when Jesse Burkholder retired, he sold the business to two of his sons, Les, of Millheim, and Russ, of Aaronsburg.
Its current location opened in 1992, despite warnings from friends and local residents who said “no business could ever survive down in that hole,” Russ Burkholder said.
But it thrived, Burkholder said.
In 2000, Burkholder’s Market expanded, doubling its size.
Last year, the store even installed gas pumps and partnered with Sunoco, which provides gas rewards for customers. Customers can save 10 cents a gallon of gas for every $100 spent on groceries.
“We’re always trying to enhance our services,” Burkholder said. “We’re not a big-box store so our management and employees are ... always on the floor, and work with customers to serve their needs.”
Some of the store’s goods are homemade or produced by local farms, including Buffalo Valley Produce in Mifflinburg, pasta from Fasta & Ravioli Co. in State College and dressings from Village Eatinghouse in Pleasant Gap.
The store also has a fresh meat and deli section, butcher shop, bakery, an organic and natural section and more.
But the secret to success stretches beyond offering good customer service.
“We create a different shopping experience for everyone and hang our hats on customer service and creating a competitive market,” Burkholder said. “We’re also creating a good work environment, and because we’re people of faith, we create a wholesome atmosphere.”
Some longtime employees include Wert and bakery manager Bonnie Auman, who’s been with the store for 22 years.
“I come to the store every day and I love it,” said Wert, who runs the cash register about 20 hours a week.
Burkholder said the store has become more energy-efficient after spending “a lot of money” on LED lighting and a new sewage system. He added that the store is also looking into solar power, and hoping to expand its kitchen and add a sit-down café in the next few years.
“We’ve just been really fortunate to invest in our store and reinvest back into the community,” Burkholder said.