Since 1958, Burger’s Market, on the corner of Grinstead Drive and Ray Avenue, has been a lot of things: grocery store, international market and Highlands meeting place. But as Tony Burger remembers, it first was a way for him and younger brother Jeff to stay out of trouble. “My Mom would say to my Dad, ‘Take them with you! I don’t want them here tormenting their sisters!’” Their father, John, who ran the shop until 1978, put his boys to work. “We’d take bottles out or clean the floors,” Tony says. “Next thing you know, we’re running the place.”
And the brothers haven’t stopped running – until now. Come March 16, Burger’s Market will close. But the reason is a happy one, at least for the family: They just want some time off.
The store’s 18 employees took the news well, says Tony. “They were supportive and understood.” Besides himself and Jeff there are several other employees at retirement age, so some change was expected. “If someone retires, it’s hard to start over with a new person.”
The reluctance to start over with a new staff was nowhere near as strong as the reluctance to end life unfulfilled. “Last May we had a friend – a customer – who died, and Jeff said, ‘Is that what it’s going to take for us to retire? One of us is going to die?’” Tony recalls. “I’ve got nine grandkids in four states. Jeff has two and one on the way. For 40 years, one of us has opened the store and one has closed it. We’ve never gotten to see our grandkids’ plays or games. I’m ready.”
Through the years, Burger’s has been staffed by Tony, Jeff and sister Jolene Burger Cross, along with neighbors, classmates and even a former babysitter. “You get people you know and trust,” Tony says. He recalls Maria Beck, who got her start working the register – and whose daughter, Alexandria, a student at Sacred Heart, is Burger’s youngest employee. “Maria said, ‘When I go to a restaurant, I look them in the eye. I look for service. Working here taught me that.”
Service is hard work – something everyone at the market knows well. “I’m a jack of all trades,” says Jolene, who, at four years old, was the first of the Burger kids to see the inside of the store, as her siblings were all in school. “I’m the bookkeeper, I close, I take orders – whatever needs to be done.” Jolene’s plans are not nailed down– in fact, she hasn’t thought beyond the store’s March closing. “I have a big heart. I’ve seen all these little kids grow up. All those memories are here,” she says.
The property’s future is unclear. “It’s going to be hard to run the place if you want to run it like we did,” Tony says. “You can’t find anybody to take those 12-hour days. Dad said, ‘If you want to be successful, you have to be here.’” The siblings will miss the Cherokee Triangle clientele, whom Tony calls “the nicest people.” “Collegiate and Burger’s ... we’re the oldest neighbors,” he says. “Now it’s time to sit back.”
With kids out of town and grandkids all over, Tony and Jeff – and their respective wives, Eva and Dianne – plan to visit family and take a long-dreamed-of trip to Italy. But it’s the day-to-day things that may prove to be an immediate challenge. “Last week this lady said to me, ‘Where am I going to get my groceries?’” Tony says. He then turns the question on himself, asking, “Where am I going to get my groceries? It’s going to be a new experience for me, too.”
Burger’s Market is located at 1105 Ray Ave. They can be reached at (502) 454-0461.