MARY KATHRYN CARPENTER/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT —  Jeff, Barry, Harley and Del Loy will celebrate this week the 45th anniversary of their move to Natchez and the opening of the first Natchez Market.  The Loys now operate seven grocery store locations. One of the first stores the Loys owned and operated was the Big Star supermarket, at top, that was located on Seargent S. Prentiss Drive.
MARY KATHRYN CARPENTER/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Jeff, Barry, Harley and Del Loy will celebrate this week the 45th anniversary of their move to Natchez and the opening of the first Natchez Market. The Loys now operate seven grocery store locations. One of the first stores the Loys owned and operated was the Big Star supermarket, at top, that was located on Seargent S. Prentiss Drive.

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Loys celebrate 45 years of serving Miss-Lou customers

Published 12:04am Sunday, June 22, 2014

NATCHEZ — The secret to successfully operating a chain of grocery stores in the Miss-Lou for 45 years can be traced to a few basic principles.

“If you work hard, be honest, pay your bills and support the community that supports you, you’ll be just fine,” said Harley Loy, who opened the first Supermarket Operations store in 1969 in Natchez and now serves as president of the company. “I never dreamed we’d get to where we are today, but it’s been rewarding to see that we have prospered over all these years.”

The road from working as a clerk in a supermarket chain in Atlanta to creating Supermarket Operations, which now operates seven locations, was one Loy said taught him incredible life lessons along the way.

The Arkansas native returned home to manage a supermarket chain after a brief stint in Atlanta.

The move eventually took him to Monroe, La., to one of the chain’s larger stores where Loy began working in advertising and public relations for eight north Louisiana supermarkets.

He got some advice while in Monroe that eventually put him on the path to owning and operating his own chain of supermarkets.

“The landlord that opened that shopping center had a wholesale grocery business, and he told me I needed to go into business for myself,” Loy said. “I told them I didn’t have any money, but they worked with me and had the ability and backing to help me get started.”

An opportunity to buy two stores in Natchez and two in Vidalia came in 1969, and Loy jumped at the chance to get into business for himself — even if he knew little about the communities that he would soon be calling home.

“I had driven through Natchez once before, but that was it,” Loy said. “I knew nothing about it, but we all moved down, and the community just responded so well to me and my family.”

Loy relocated with his wife and five children, some of who became the company’s first employees and are now helping run the operations of the company.

Del Loy was 16 when his family relocated to Natchez, and he had already worked for his dad’s store in Monroe.

“When we moved here, I pretty much went right to work helping in the back room, stocking groceries and just doing anything I could to help all throughout high school,” said Del, who is vice president and office manager. “It’s a world of difference how much the stores are different now than it once was when dad had to put so much work into them to get them going.”

For the first five years the company started in the Miss-Lou, Loy was lucky to put in less than 70 hours a week at the stores.

“It was extremely tough because we had bought all these old stores with worn out equipment, and we had to refurbish the stores, train employees and it was just a long, hard process,” Loy said. “Through the years, we were able to work on improving our stores and the opportunity would come up to add stores, and we just took advantage of every opportunity.”

The closing of several Winn Dixie stores in the area, eventually gave way to new stores in Ferriday and McComb.

Barry Loy, who started working for his dad in 1974 and is now retail operations director and treasurer, said the demise of large supermarket chains over the years has shown that small chains invested in their community can survive with strength and perseverance.

“We just knew the power of hard work and dedication goes a long way, and I think that was the ultimate test when all these chains would pull up and leave town if they weren’t making money,” Barry said. “When you’re working hard and not making money it’s difficult, but you have to not be willing to give up and quit.”

Those same lessons have been important for the Loys to continue instilling in the future generations of Supermarket Operations employees, said Jeff Loy, who began working for the company in 1979 and is now vice president.

“All my life, I’ve seen dad work hard and that’s what I’ve tired to do all my life and pass that along to others,” Jeff said. “We’ve done every kind of job in those stores and that’s because dad would also tell us you never want to tell someone what to do that you haven’t done yourself.”

Another important lesson the Loy children said their father instilled in them at an early age was the importance of giving back to the community, which is one reason the company has been a part of the Miss-Lou Relay for Life since its inception.

The Markets was recognized at this year’s Relay event for having raised more than $250,000 for the American Cancer Society since the first event in 1996.

“Our mother passed away from cancer almost 13 years ago, so we’ve made it a point to be a big part of Relay since the inception of it,” Barry said. “It means a lot to us to give back that way because everybody has been touched by cancer.”

Loy, 85, said seeing his children carry on the values and lessons he worked to bring them up on throughout their lives gives him confidence that Supermarket Operations will be around for another 45 years.

“I know my kids will continue running on the same things we’ve been doing all these years,” Loy said. “Being honest and community minded will let them get to wherever they want to be.”