An Interview with George Lipari, owner of Sun Fresh Market

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George Lipari, owner of Sun Fresh Market in the Red Bridge Shopping Center. Photo by Kathy Feist

It’s been 25 years since he opened Sun Fresh Market. Much has changed.

By Kathy Feist

When George Lipari opened Sun Fresh Market in April, 1991, the Red Bridge Shopping Center was bustling with activity. In 25 years, a lot has changed. And while a lot of businesses have come and gone, Sun Fresh has remained loyal to the area.

I sat down with George Lipari, who just turned 64 on March 16, to discuss the changes and the future plans for the shopping center and the grocery store.

Q: What got you into the grocery business?

A: I was born into it. My father (Ross) owned a Thriftway store in Kansas City, KS, that had been in business since 1956. I’m second generation. I have a son who works here. His name is Ross also.

Q: What was here before?

A: It was a Payless [groceries]. It had been a store in the shopping center since 1956 also. Payless moved down here in 1979. That’s when the AMC [movie theater] took their spot on the corner.

Q: What were you doing prior to opening Sun Fresh?

A: I had sold my grocery store in Independence, 24 Hwy and River, in 1987. It was a Thriftway. We had built a Price Chopper in 1986 at 103rd and State Line.

Q: How has the area changed since 1991?

A: It’s changed quite a bit. The clientele has gotten younger. We are getting more of a mixed crowd.

Q: It was a bustling area in 1991…

A: Well, at that time we didn’t have Walmart. We didn’t have Target. So that really changed a lot of things. It changed everything.

Q: DeVry will be moving out this summer. FEMA will be moving into their spot in 2017 and bringing 220 employees. Do you think this will have a good impact on the area as opposed to students coming and going?

A: Yes. DeVry has changed considerably. They used to fill that lot up with their cars. But the Internet has changed everything. Everybody is doing online schooling and so there are very few people in there anymore. They lease those parking lots out to [a car dealership]. [The change] will not hurt any. It’s an opportunity.

Q: So what has kept you here?

A: What has kept me here? Well, it is my life!

Q: What do you think of the proposed changes by developer Lane4 to the shopping center?

A: They have a lot of good plans. And I think they are working hard at making sure they get done. It’s a very large company and that’s good. They can reach real deep. So if anybody can do it, it will be them.

Q: What would you like to see happen with the center?

A: What I would like to see– of course they are the experts– is that they get a right fit for the neighborhood. That’s the hard one. Our demographics are somewhat mixed. We have middle- to upper-middle income here. It’s not Prairie Village. It’s not Corinth. And that’s not always a bad thing.

Q: What would you like to see happen with the store?

A: We are close to it now. We need some updating. I would like to see a very nice remodel. I don’t think we will be moving any walls. It’s going to be the same size. A new deli, possibly. New refrigeration and new flooring. We are going to keep the produce where it is, but probably have triple-decker cases. That will give us more space to do some of the things we would like to do, like add more variety that the newer generation is looking for: more organic and gluten-free products. And it’s just a matter of what Lane4 wants to do on the outside.

Q: Speaking of the new generation, what are you seeing for the future of grocery stores in general?

A: They are starting to get smaller. We see that with WalMart and their neighborhood grocery stores. The grocery store business has been shrinking in the last 10 years. And it’s mainly due to people eating away from home and not cooking. The restaurant business is bigger now than the grocery business, including bigger than WalMart. That’s hard to imagine but it really is. We are lucky to get a 1-1/2 or 2% bottom line, and that’s before taxes. It gets tough.…

At one time they were building grocery stores at 75,000 square feet. But they are scaling them back to 55,000 square feet. We’ve seen a lot of [stores] become very successful with that square footage. It’s more convenient. So that’s why I don’t think we need to expand very much.

Q: Easter is approaching. What do you recommend for those who still cook?

A: We are going to be running a special on our [Hormel] Cure 81 hams, which is the best ham out there.

Q: What is your favorite product here? If you could bring something home every night, what would that product be?

A: We have a lot of good products here! Our Italian sausage. Our fried chicken is very good. We get a lot of compliments on our fried chicken….

Q: What is your favorite item in the bakery?

A: Pudding cakes!

Q: And you mentioned Italian sausage…

A: We have an excellent meat department. We make our own pork Italian sausage, brats and andouille. We do a lot of smoked meats. We have a very good smoker in the back.

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