Since 1967, Ken Smith has been the owner and proprietor of Ken and Sons Select Market on Avenue U, delivering groceries to the public with his family by his side.
As of Monday, the store will become the Hamilton Market when new owners Natasha Montero and Mike Hamilton take over.
As Smith, 87, reflects on the past 52 years running the small, neighborhood market, he identifies his wife Carolyn and five children as pivotal players in its success.
“They help make it what it is,” he said. “It was good for our children and it was good for us.”
Giving the business a go
After working several years in the grocery industry as a young man, Smith had the inclination to run his own business. The family was living in Hillsboro when the market on Avenue U, then owned by the Biamont family under a different name, became available.
“The opportunity came along here in Seaside, so we took it,” Smith said. “We put everything up for sale and moved here and gave it our go.”
At the time, his children — Doug, Kim, Theresa, Nina, and Ted — were between the ages of 12 and 2. The oldest began doing chores around the store after school while Ted “helped get rid of my inventory by depleting our candy section,” Smith joked.
The first 17 years were tough, he said, owing to the store, which was named Ken’s Shopping Center at the time, being under new management and the town’s small, seasonal population. Over time, he said, “things started going better and better” as the store became more established and the tourism industry continued strengthening.
The market’s location, along with its lack of long lines and laid-back atmosphere, have kept Ken and Sons going. Customers “enjoy the easy shopping,” Smith said, adding, “It’s so nice they can walk over, and they really, really enjoy the fact they don’t have to get out on that highway.”
A practical education
Eventually, Smith renamed the store to reflect his sons’ involvement, although all his children worked at the store at one time or another. In fact, except for a few occasional unrelated employees in the early years, the store’s staff has primarily been comprised of family members, including in-laws and grandchildren.
“It’s fun my children were able to learn the business and it helped them to grow in their personalities,” Smith said.
He feels it was beneficial for each one to be given responsibility and start developing a strong work ethic at a young age. His children also learned about the value of customer service and building relationships with shoppers.
“The thing that’s most important in any business is public relations, to be concerned with what (customers) want,” Smith said.
When shoppers come to the store, he receives their feedback on what they would like to see stocked on the shelves. Because space is limited, they have to be careful their inventory moves quickly, but they also take special orders to meet their customers’ needs, Smith said.
Looking toward his retirement from the grocery business, meeting people and building a rapport with the customers is what he anticipates missing the most. While Ken and Sons Market has gathered a local following, they’ve also built long-term relationships with out-of-town customers.
“We have a lot of people, we call them our regulars because they’re here every year,” Smith said, adding they have gotten to know several generations of those families. “We always wait for them to come each year.”
For the foreseeable future, Smith and his wife will stay in Seaside near four of their five children and continue managing their rental apartments.
“Everything we need is here,” he said.