When Mark Almquist first came to Estherville to manage the Fareway store on Jan. 1, 1993, it would be a little over year later when the current store opened on Central Avenue.
It was worth the wait, though.
"I love the people I work with and I love the customers," said Almquist, who has on his desk a photo of himself with Kevin Brosh, Lisa Nitchals, Gail Ukasick and Snoden Wedebrand, all who have been with him since he started with the store in Estherville over 20 years ago.
The Fareway family - that's how Almquist refers to them - has continued to thrive, and Almquist fondly recalls how his wife Deb and their children Andy and Amy thrived here in Estherville as well.
Over the years, Almquist has seen a lot of changes in the grocery business.
He fixed pallets at the Fareway warehouse in Boone in junior high. Between that and when he started his career with the company in earnest, he received both performance and teaching degrees in music and taught high-school band at Ruthven for three years then at West Union for another three years before joining Fareway at the Clear Lake store in 1982. From there it was on to Washington in 1985, Belmont in 1988 and Oscaloosa in 1991.
It used to be that cans and boxes had to be hand-stamped. Produce prices had to be memorized. And things like sugar, flour and potatoes were packaged in-house.
Almquist recalls how once his son was working in the store and found a tarantula in the watermelons. Since Mom didn't like the idea of a furry, creeping creature settling down on the living room couch to watch television with the rest of the family, the tarantula found his way to the pet store.
If there's anything Almquist would like people to remember about him, though, it would be how he followed the Golden Rule.
"I treat them like I want to be treated," Almquist said. "That's part of the success of having so many long-term employees and so many long-term customers."
For the Estherville Fareway store, having employees for 10 years or more is common.
"They're just like family," said Almquist.
Mark and Deb are moving to North Liberty where Amy is a stay-at-home mom. Andy isn't too far away at Ames where he's director of Internet security for Iowa State University.
Several friends with whom he used to play in bands - Almquist plays trumpet and flugelhorn at a professional level - are living in the North Liberty area. "That's a draw for me too," he said.
His college roommate has a music store business he'd like to help with too.
And then of course there's family.
"I want to have some fun with my grandkids. I want to have fun with my family and I want to have fun with my friends while I still can," Almquist said, adding that he'll work fewer hours than the 65 a week he puts in currently.
With North Liberty just a hop and a skip north of Iowa City, Almquist sees lots of opportunities to pursue his lifelong love of music that started since 1967 when the VFW pulled him out of junior high to play Taps for funerals. Estherville Post 3388 will no doubt miss him as well.
And, despite the sometimes grueling hours, the running out of milk and bread as blizzards loom, Almquist will most definitely miss Fareway with which he's shared more than half his life.
"Fareway's kind of like a fraternity," he said.
Maybe even a family.