Beating the Chains

Lindy’s Downtown Market
by Scott Rogers

“Hi there, Sally, how are you today?” Noticing the trouble she is having lifting a bulky item into her shopping cart, Jim Linsley stops what he is doing and lends her a hand. Welcome to Lindy’s Downtown Market, Washington, Illinois’ source for fresh and exceptional foods for more than half a century.

Kroger, Safeway, Schnucks and, of course, Wal-Mart—these are some of the heavy hitters of today’s corporate supermarket behemoths. Over the last 30 years, many of the small-town, locally-owned grocery stores that were once staples of their respective communities have fallen by the wayside, unable to compete against the big bucks of the big-box stores. But Lindy’s is one of the survivors, having figured out how to beat the chains in other ways. Let’s face it: it’s not often that the person behind the deli counter at the Wal-Mart Superstore calls you by name, nor is one of the Walton heirs going to magically appear and offer you that extra helping hand.

Years of Dedication
Lindy’s Downtown Market, operating in Washington since 1958, has evolved with the times to meet the needs of its customers—and to keep the corporate supermarkets at bay. Lindy’s was originally founded in the Washington Square by Clarence “Lindy” Linsley; today, his sons, Jim and Bob Linsley, carry on under the Lindy’s banner, splitting ownership of the business 50/50.

In its early years, the store consisted of a mere two aisles, a smaller setup than that of most gas stations today. After 12 years, the market moved to its current location on Peoria Street, tripling its size in the process. Through the years, they have continued to expand while passing the business down from father to sons.

But the love for the family business hasn’t yet left its founder and namesake. At 90 years young, Clarence still comes into the store several hours a week to lend a hand where he can. It is that spirit of dedication and hard work that he instilled in his sons and keeps the business going strong today.

A Well-Deserved Reputation
One might envision Lindy’s as the classic mom-and-pop shop, the David struggling to fend off the corporate Goliaths. And so it is in many ways…yet Lindy’s is not struggling at all. On the contrary, the beloved store has flourished, distinguished by the personal service that only a smaller, hometown shop can provide, as well as its niche in filling the market for gourmet items and locally produced goods that the big chains typically don’t carry.

“We try to separate ourselves from everyone else,” said Jim. “We’ve tried to be different, and it works.” Lindy’s has built a well-deserved reputation for high-quality fruits and vegetables, with its large selection of organic and specialty produce. “We don’t go out on the open market and just buy produce based on price,” said Jim. “We buy it based on quality, taste and consistency.” When you eat a piece of fruit from Lindy’s, you know right where it came from; there is no veil of uncertainty.

In the deli, you’ll find an assortment of high-quality Boar's Head deli meats and cheeses, which contain no byproducts, filler or artificial colors or flavorings. The meat department offers 100-percent Black Angus cuts from Creekstone Farms, homemade pork sausage and ham loaf, and barbeque ribs smoked in their own smoker. Bell & Evans chicken, raised without antibiotics or growth hormones, is shipped in fresh from Pennsylvania Dutch country. In the bakery, old-world artisan breads, gourmet cinnamon rolls and spud nut doughnuts will keep you coming back for more.

Turning the Tables
The evolution in the way the Linsleys do business arose from the realization that they could never compete with the larger supermarkets on price alone. “Before, we would get up every morning,” said Jim, “see what the competition was doing, and try to go out and beat them on price.” That made little sense for a smaller business that lacked the financial resources of a Wal-Mart or Kroger.

“Whenever you try to beat someone on price on a continual basis,” said Jim, “especially in your perishable department, you’re going to be…buying anything that comes along because the price is cheap.” Instead, Lindy’s began to differentiate itself on quality—catering to those who want better foods and ingredients and desire the finest meats. That decision, made in 2001, was far from a sure bet, but it has proven to be a risk worth taking. Since then, the business has not only survived in the face of its competition, it has thrived, having adopted a business model that can’t easily be taken away.

Direct involvement in the local community is another point of distinction. The Linsleys’ helping hand extends far, whether providing the food at a fundraiser for Washington’s dog park or for such causes as the Journal Star Christmas Fund. The business also carries on its shelves many locally-produced goods, among them Dr. Paul’s Piggy Paste, Prima Pasta and Aleece's Pita Chips.

From its humble origins on the Washington Square more than 50 years ago, Lindy’s Downtown Market has carved out a nice niche for itself—and one they won’t soon give up. iBi

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