● By Jon Lewis
Story: Jon Lewis Photos: Bret Christensen
FAMILY-OWNED TOPS MARKETS IN WEAVERVILLE AND REDDING
A grocery store often serves as the heart and soul of a small town, and Tops Market in Weaverville is no exception.
Don Ryan opened the store in 1961, providing produce, meats, dairy products and other staples out of a 7,000-square-foot building. A family operation from the start, son Dan remembers his first job sorting soda bottles that had been returned for a deposit.
Dan Ryan and his brothers Dean and Dee eventually moved up the organizational chart to become courtesy clerks, carrying customers’ groceries to their cars—a practice Tops courtesy clerks continue today.
That emphasis on customer service remained with the Ryan boys as their father’s business continued to grow. To accommodate the steadily growing customer base, the senior Ryan built a 17,000-square-foot store in 1979.
The three boys became formal partners in the operation in 1984, and by 1996 it was time to make the biggest leap yet: a 39,000-square-foot supermarket chock full of all the bells and whistles, including a Starbucks outlet, sushi bar, a full-service deli and a bakery.
“When we opened it, we thought it was too big. It turns out it’s not,” laughs Dan Ryan. “We’re talking about remodeling already.” The extra shelf and floor space allows the store to offer more products, including more locally sourced items that customers have been requesting.
In early 2009, the Ryans were ready to take on the big city and they completed a deal to purchase the former Sunset Market on Eureka Way at Buenaventura Boulevard. “When we came to Redding, we came with the same philosophy: we want to get to know our customers,” Dan Ryan says.
Dennis Nieri, manager of what is now Tops Fresh Market, says the entire Tops family has been working hard to re-invent the Redding market in a competitive field and the results are starting to look promising.
“It’s been a challenge to get our customers to come back and give us a try,” Nieri says, “but it’s very encouraging seeing our business grow, our customer count increasing, and knowing we’re starting to head in a positive direction.”
One of the first things to greet the Ryans in Redding was some stiff competition. No sooner did they pick up the keys to the store then Redding welcomed a Trader Joe’s, Walmart became a supercenter and BevMo!, a big-box wine and alcohol retailer, opened on Hilltop Drive.
As one of the few independent grocers in the North State, Dan Ryan sat down with his brothers to figure out how best to “compete with the big boys.” They decided to stick with the essentials that have served them well since the good old days in Weaverville: top-notch customer service and quality products.
Not that they are averse to change, however. “When I started, it was just Bud and Coors, Pepsi and Coke,” says Dean Ryan, who oversees operations at both markets. “Now there are hundreds and hundreds of craft beers, soda pops, sports drinks… it’s a changing business. If I stayed status quo, we probably wouldn’t be here for 50 years. If you do nothing, you’re probably not going to last very long.”
As Dean Ryan notes, “you can buy a can of beans anywhere,” but Tops tries to emphasize quality in other areas, like offering premium beef from Creekstone Farms. “It’s hormone-free, grain-fed beef and 100 percent Black Angus. It’s a tad more expensive, but better quality beef.
“Quality is No. 1. I want us to have the best strawberries out there. Do we make mistakes? Yes we do, but we try our best. I always want the best of quality in meats, deli, bakery...”
Like most modern businesses, Tops keeps a keen eye out for opportunities to keep it green. To help reduce landfill waste, Dean Ryan says the waxed cardboard produce boxes are bailed up and taken to Oroville where they are processed into fireplace logs.
Nieri says he’s looking into eliminating the use of plastic grocery bags because of their tendency to clog up landfills. “The owners are concerned about the environment and the waste and they’re making sure it’s taken care of properly.”
In another nod to contemporary values, Nieri says Tops is stocking a larger variety of natural organic items. “We try and purchase as much quality locally grown produce as we can and we carry a terrific line of dairy products by Clover, out of Petaluma. The quality in our dairy products is top-notch. It’s very enjoyable working for a small, independent, caring retailer.”
Tops Super Foods • 1665 Main St., Weaverville • (530) 623-2494 Tops Fresh Foods • 3685 Eureka Way, Redding • (530) 241-1391