Center Grove’s first family-owned grocery is saying goodbye
By Jeremy Dunn
In a few short weeks, Hampton’s Market, off Smith Valley Road, will not only be closing its doors, it will also be closing the book on a treasured part of Center Grove history. Goebel “Pop” Hampton and his son, Keith, opened the area’s first family-owned grocery in 1974 to the welcoming arms of local farmers. Over the next 44 years, “Pop”, who served as an army cook for General Patton during World War II and his family not only shared their love for food with the community but treated all their customers like extended family members.
Store manager Shannon Hoover, 22, shared, “We know everybody. It’s more like family out here. We have some of the same customers we had in 1974. We know their kids and their kids’ kids. They’ve all grown up here.”
Weathering the storm (and more)
The Hamptons had to endure one of their greatest challenges in 1997, when a tornado caused massive damage to the market’s roof and structure. Always ones to care about the well-being of their employees and customers, “Pop” and Keith relocated their staff and products to another family business, Boggstown Locker, while Hampton Market faced a year-and-a-half rebuilding window. Wanting to remain in Center Grove, the family elected to reopen across the street, on westbound Smith Valley Road, in December of 1998.
Another rebuild was necessary about a decade ago after a freak accident. Hoover recalled, “The tornado was huge but we did have a car drive through the front of the building one time. A lady got her foot caught one the gas pedal and drove through the front of the building. Right through the front door.” Fortunately, no one was seriously injured but once again, the Hamptons found themselves making repairs.
Carrying on a legacy
Among the challenges, Hampton’s Market had become a staple in the Center Grove community. Known for its outstanding deli meats and service, the family grocery was beginning to draw in customers from outlining areas, including Mooresville, Indianapolis and even Carmel. Hoover shared that Hampton’s Market values providing quality. “We have always had better meats. We are very picky about the meat we sell and the customers like that. We aren’t just going to put anything out,” she said. As the Center Grove area was blossoming, so was the store. “When we first came in, we were doing great. All of these houses were being built. There was a lot of construction,” remembered the longtime manager.
Unfortunately, nothing could prepare the Hamptons for the loss they would face in 2006, as Goebel passed away. With his father and co-founder gone, Keith Hampton and his wife, Sue, carried on the Hampton’s grocery tradition. Little did they know at the time, but the couple was about to face some of the market’s toughest challenges.
Taking on the big-boxes
As Keith and Sue continued to have success, the area’s growth continued to expand toward State Road 135. With the population rapidly rising, more and more businesses began to set their sights on Center Grove. The newfound competition brought a whole new set of challenges for the small family-owned grocery. “People just weren’t coming in and buying the groceries like they used to,” Hoover said. “We suddenly had five big-box stores, Wal-Mart and Kroger, around us. You can’t buy Tide and stuff in the quantity that they do. So, we can’t offer the prices they can. Once they started building up around State Road 135, we started slowing down.” Even with the deli thriving, Hampton’s Market was struggling to stay afloat against the supermarket powerhouses.
An even bigger blow came in July of 2017, when Keith Hampton suddenly passed away, leaving the family business solely to Sue and her longtime staff family. Even before the last co-founder’s passing, the family had already been in discussions about the store’s future. Now, with her family’s and customers’ best interest at heart, Sue Hampton knew what she had to do. “She had been trying to find someone (to purchase the store) since the beginning of the year. It wasn’t like an overnight decision. We thought maybe someone might be able to come in but it just didn’t work out and we cannot go into another winter losing money.” Hoover said.
Ultimately, it was decided that Hampton’s Market would close its doors at the end of July. The deli would offer service until Sunday, July 8 and the first family-owned grocery in Center Grove would end all sales on Sunday, July 29.
Leaving a mark on the community
While the community does not want to see Hampton’s Market leave Center Grove, it will always value the family more than the business. Recently, customers seem to linger in the deli line or check-out counters just a little longer, trying to capture that one last memory of the Hampton’s Market experience. It is no secret that this small family business with humble beginnings deeply rooted with local farmers thrives on its relationships with its customers.
Upon checking out, one customer asked if it would be possible to purchase one of the market’s grocery baskets with a well-aged orange color and the words “Hampton’s Market” faded on its side. “I just want something to remember this place by. There are so many memories here.” he explained to the young cashier.
Customers of this Center Grove landmark know it was not the groceries that made this market unique. It was the stories shared alongside a deli counter, the partnership with the local fire department at strawberry fests, families passing down trips to the store to their children and the value of a warm smile and friendly conversation. THAT is Hampton’s Market and that is how they wrote their own chapter in Center Grove history.
Hoover will always treasure the element of family. “We grew up with them,” she said. “Their kids grew up with us. We’ve been to the weddings. We’ve been to the funerals. We’ve been to everything.”