Some youngsters want to grow up to become artists or athletes or firefighters. Some want to be doctors or dancers. Charles Walker wanted to own a supermarket.
“Ever since I can remember, I wanted my own grocery store,” he said over lunch on a quiet afternoon in snowbound Detroit last year. To Walker, “grocery store” meant a gleaming, well-run supermarket, not necessarily huge but well stocked and scrupulously clean, with fresh meats and produce and first-class customer service.
“I had retail in my blood,” he told me. “I grew up here in Detroit, but I had a grandmother we used to visit in Alabama, and she had a store that sold cookies and candies, and she had a pop machine. That all seemed pretty cool to a little kid. And the people my mother worked for owned a meat market. That was their life. As I got older, going to high school and college, I worked there in the summers. That appealed to me, too, and they seemed to be making a good living. I thought that I could do something on a larger scale, and I really wanted to.”
The upside of this story is that Charles Walker, a black kid from a rough-and-tumble neighborhood in Detroit, realized his dream. It took a long time, but after years of working and prudent money management, after stints as a manager for CVS stores and a market called Metro Foodland, he was able to put together a deal, with help from relatives and a handful of outside investors, for a market that was part of the discount Sav-A-Lot chain. At age 47, the happily married father of three grown children had his supermarket.