Since it started opening on Sundays in July 1993, Mr. G's Liquor hasn't missed opening for a single day — not even on holidays.
Norris and Lesley Gerhart's family business is at the center of their orbit. Even during holidays, thought is given to when and for how long the store should — and will — open to the public. Over the course of Mr. G's history, serving customers to this extent has always been a priority, which is part of what might help to explain the store's staying power as it celebrates 40 years in business.
Sept. 15 officially marks Mr. G's 40th anniversary. Norris said he originally opened Mr. G's in 1979, at age 21 — he started on Oak Street, with his business partner, Steve. After a year, Norris bought out Steve's part of the store and stayed at the Oak Street location for about the next year, while renting the current Buchanan Street location. He eventually condensed to one location and the rest is history. Since then, Norris has built on to the current property, which he's owned for a while.
"I didn't think I was going to get a career when we bought a liquor store," Norris said. "But I made it (one)."
Norris said he gives much of the credit for Mr. G's success and staying power to his wife, Lesley. He said she talked him into buying a computer back in the day, instead of continuing to do all of the store's inventory on paper. Family has remained a key theme through the years — some of their children grew up around the store, and almost all of them have spent at least a little time working there.
Norris said the landscape of what is available in liquor stores has changed vastly since he started out — his original inventory on opening day was just $5,000. He said the variety of options available was far less, and things like 12-packs didn't yet exist. Even more recently, the sheer amount of options has surprised him, he said.
"Thanksgiving a year ago, we put that wall of coolers in — I bought them on a good deal — and thought, 'We'll never fill them,'" Norris said. "Now they're full to the brim and we wonder every day where we're going to put something else."
Despite the broad changes in products over the years, Norris said the biggest change in Mr. G's 40 year history was adding Sundays as an open day, and thus beginning its streak of opening every day.
"We schedule our Christmas around when (Norris) has to work at Mr. G's," Lesley said.
Norris said without the support of the community — and the business's customer base in general — Mr. G's couldn't have remained open for as long as it has. He said Mr. G's has customers it can count on seeing at least once a year during hunting season from as far away as Louisiana.
Norris said part of this customer loyalty comes from the more personal interactions he tries to emphasize in his work, from helping people working at the fairgrounds with a place to do laundry and a ride to opening up early or during holidays pre-1993 for people to make a quick purchase.
Norris said, in celebration of Mr. G's 40th anniversary, there will be a customer appreciation day Sept. 14. From 11 a.m.-2 p.m., they'll be giving away T-shirts, chili dogs and doing drawings while supplies last — "Because without them, we wouldn't be here," Lesley said.
In the foreseeable future, the Gerharts are getting ready to welcome a grandchild, and business will continue as usual at Mr. G's. Eventual retirement is in the cards, but when that happens, Norris and Lesley said they plan to keep the business in the family. Norris said, even when retirement comes, stepping away will be a challenge because he's been going for so long, and because of his appreciation for Mr. G's customers.
"I just want everyone to know that (my wife and I) are so appreciative to the community for their support," Norris said. "Without their support, we wouldn't be alive and we wouldn't be here."