Tracy Food Pride owner Bruce Schelhaas looks back on 20 years in Tracy
By Per Peterson
Living up to the name of his beloved store, Bruce Schelhaas wears his pride on his sleeve everytime he talks about it.
It’s been 20 years since Schelhaas expanded his grocery roots to Tracy, and through all the changes and challenges the industry has thrown at him, his reign as Tracy’s only grocer is a testament to his perseverance.
Schelhaas was already operating a grocery store in Balaton and one in Ruthton when he was approached about re-opening the former Super Valu in downtown Tracy — which, like its counterpart on Highway 14, Red Owl, was forced to close its doors after the new Jack & Jill opened on the west side of town.
Looking back, Schelhaas recalls thinking it was an “interesting proposition.” Today, the downtown grocery store a distant memory, Schelhaas proudly looks back on 20 years in Tracy. He’s proud of his longevity for many reasons and has no intention of getting out of the business, despite consistent 60-hour weeks.
Over the years, Schelhaas has made some serious interior upgrades — some more noticeable than others. He has recently added a couple new coolers for dairy and deli items, as well as all new LED lighting. He said he had a $400,000 project ready to go to replace every case in the store, but he had to scale back after realizing the impact the new “dollar stores” would have.
“In all actuality, we’ve been able to hold our own pretty well,” he says.
Starting out in Tracy
Schelhaas’ journey from re-opening an already-established and beloved downtown store and eventually moving into another one, is rather complex.
The Tracy Economic Development Authority and Tracy Area Development Corporation provided assistance, and the TADC spearheaded a fundraising campaign to raise $50,000 from the local community in start-up capital. The EDA had purchased the building from former owner Ken Drever and then sold it to Schelhaas on a contract-for-deed. SuperValu employee John Graf had taken over the store from Drever.
“They had put together SBA loans, building loans, we had gotten a loan through the (Tracy) EDA and the TADC, along with an SB (small business) loan, along with $50,000 that was raised by the citizens of Tracy to re-open the downtown store,” Schelhaas said. “I walked in there with no money, but once I signed the bottom line, I was on the hook for all of it. There’s a very big risk involved. I had my Balaton store, my Ruthton store, my house tied to those loans. For me, it looked like a pretty good deal because I could walk into a business without putting any money into it — just a lot of hard labor.”
For more on this article, see this week’s Headlight-Herald.