In 1963, Larry Reasor had just arrived in Tahlequah with his family, and he opened a small grocery store at 200 W. Choctaw St.
Fifty years later, his son, Jeff, now chairs a still-growing chain of 17 supermarkets and two convenience stores.
“I wanted to be an accountant for a while,” Jeff Reasor said. “I thought about the law, but I was just too much of an entrepreneur. I can do the type of job where you sit and work through issue after issue, because I’ve worked on acquiring stores. But I don’t like being tied to it.”
So he now carries on the legacy of his father, who passed away in 2004.
Reasor’s has locations in Tulsa, Broken Arrow, Bixby, Catoosa, Claremore, Jenks, Owasso, Sand Springs, Sapulpa, Langley, and its hometown of Tahlequah. The company observed its 50th anniversary from May through July.
Glenn Stafford, manager of the Tahlequah store at 2001 S. Muskogee Ave., said customers and employees took part in the celebration.
“It was company-wide,” Stafford said. “We had some really good deals and giveaway drawings for our customers. Coke gave our employees some 50th anniversary gear, and we had an employee celebration day at all our stores. We cooked burgers and chicken and showed some of our old TV commercials.”
Stafford is one of Reasor’s many long-term employees. He started as a “sacker” in 1977.
“It’s just a very good organization,” he said. “Employees are treated well, and we adhere to good ethics. When your employees are happy, they will take care of your business.”
Reasor’s first responsibility in his father’s store was sanitizing soda bottles – back when they could be returned for small refunds.
“I was in junior high,” he recalled. “Since then, I’ve realized that what I love about this is just being in the action. It’s much the same reason I still love to go to football and basketball games and concerts. It’s being in the bustle of people. Everybody likes being around the action or commotion, even if they aren’t in the middle of it. You feed off it.”
Much has changed in 50 years. Reasor said the first store, corner of Choctaw and College, probably didn’t stock 5,000 items. In fact, it was run by two people. Today, the company, employee-owned since 2007, has a workforce of 3,000.
“Customers’ wants and desires have changed over the years,” Reasor said. “We had a roll-top ice cream freezer in the first store. Now we have 55 feet of ice cream. The town grows, the highways become four-lane, people don’t walk around as much, and it becomes hard to make a neighborhood store work. We had to grow.”
Reasor said the secret to the company’s success isn’t different than that of any other successful business plan.
“We’ve long said that we want to sell the customers what they want, not what we want to sell them,” he said. “We also want to treat our employees well. It takes everybody to make a business work, from the high school kids who sack groceries to those who perhaps have been here a while and are in management positions.”
When dealing with employees, Reasor said, his father passed on a valuable lesson.
“In the early days, my father would hire people and try to train them to be store manager or run the whole operation,” Reasor said. “It took him a little while to realize some people just want to be market manager or assistant manager. It is what they need at the time. He learned to understand the employees’ needs. We try to put everyone in the right places so that everyone benefits, and the company benefits as well.”
Born in Tahlequah, the chain will always call this city home, Reasor said.
“We are attached to Tahlequah,” he said.
“The corporate office won’t move anywhere while I’m here. Some were afraid we were moving when we opened a support center in Tulsa. We do use it for some of our supplies, produce and for office space. We moved some of our offices there to help with coordination. We had about 40 people scattered over five stores who were driving back and forth to work part of the day. But we’re still headquartered in Tahlequah.”
Reasor would like to acquire or build more stores and continue expanding the chain.
“I’m 58, and I feel 58 in some ways – especially when I play golf,” he said. “But I’m really looking forward to the next 50 years.”
In November 1992, the Daily Press published a supplement called “Tahlequah’s Most Intriguing People,” which featured an interview with Larry Reasor. Long-time staff writer Bob Gibbins wrote the story. Few copies of that edition remain, and we offer this feature to our readers, in memory of this trail-blazing businessman. See www.tahlequahdaily press.com/onlineexclu sives.