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Wilson grocery store venture is a family affair Store life repeats itself for Jim Bowman, co-owner of the Wilson Lakeside IGA

A typical Saturday at Wilson's Lakeside IGA will find Jim Bowman stocking shelves or working at the deli counter.

His wife, Colleen, handles duties at the cash register on Sunday mornings.

And it's not unusual to see members of their extended families lending a hand at the grocery store, which the couple bought last May.

"Jim always wanted for us to own our own business in the community," Colleen said last week. "His parents owned their own [fruit] farm for 30-plus years and his sister still farms the land."

"And," said, Jim, "we wanted to have something to hand down to our kids."

The Bowmans are about to embark on their second tourist season at the helm of the 11,000-square-foot store not far from Lake Ontario, in an upstate region known for a growing set of megagroceries, including Wal-Mart.

They will do so the old-fashioned way: with as much help from family as they can get, with a small set of loyal employees who have worked under previous owners, and with shoppers that include a mix of year-round and summer residents who enjoy the convenience of a nearby store and friendly, familiar staff.

"This is very convenient and the prices are mostly competitive," village resident Dorothy Maxfield said during a shopping visit last week. "I think it's great. I've known these two for years. They're a very nice family."

The Bowmans grew up in the Wilson area and live in Wilson. Jim Bowman, 45, has come full-circle. The meat department was where he first worked as a teenager.

And what makes the couple's ownership of a grocery store even more unusual is that both of them have other demanding careers, as well.

Jim spent two decades traveling extensively as the chief information officer for a major overnight carrier corporation. He now works as a computer programmer for Aero Instruments and Avionics Inc. in North Tonawanda.

Colleen, 43, has been in banking for 22 years and serves as banking center manager at the Bank of America's Tonawanda branch on Niagara Falls Boulevard.

The couple have two children, Mary Beth, 13, and Joseph, 10, who attend Wilson schools.

They bought the store from Ruth deLaat, of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., who had operated the business with her late husband, Adrie.

Family played a big role in their decision to purchase the business.

"We were very excited that our families were behind us," Colleen said. "I come from a large family. I have seven brothers and sisters, and my dad [Michael Golanka] can fix anything, so he helps us here at the store.

"And Jim's mother, Barb, works with us all summer in the produce department. My niece and Jim's nephews also work here."

After 11 successful months at the helm, the Bowmans are entertaining the idea of adding a dry-cleaning drop-off and pick-up service to the store. The dry-cleaning would be done elsewhere.

The fact that the new owners are local and that they're highly visible in the store are two favorable comments Colleen said she has heard repeatedly this past year.

"I've known both of them forever and they're wonderful people," Wilson Mayor Thomas J. Bateman said. "They have the personality and drive to succeed. They're the type of people who can accomplish whatever they undertake."

The Bowmans met while attending Wilson schools and have long been active in the community; Colleen, with their children's schools, and Jim, with Wilson Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1, where he served as past chief.

So when this opportunity arose, they felt it was time to invest in this new venture.

"I never left home. Even when I was doing extensive [international] traveling for my job, I always ended up back here," said Jim.

The lakeside community's population swells in the summer, with anglers, boaters, tourists and seasonal cottage residents.

"We've gotten to know some of these people with cottages and they'll even stop by in the winter to buy groceries," Jim said. "Granted, they might be here to check on their cottage, but they don't have to stop in here on their way back to say, Williamsville, but they do. They pass plenty of other stores along the way."

Jim credits customer allegiance to his staff's dedication to keeping the store "clean and friendly, and remembering the customer is the reason you're here."

While Jim admitted that there are some ways in which they cannot compete with the big chain stores, he and Colleen believe they make up for it in personalized service.

The store uses local produce whenever possible and offers a full-service bakery and meat department where the butcher will handle special orders.

The couple estimates the building has served as a grocery store for at least five decades.

The Bowmans credit the long-term staff as helping smooth their transition to business-owners and to maintain the five-star rating bestowed by the International Grocers Association (IGA).

Manager Jerry Kadryna has worked there 17 years, for example.

"Jerry really runs the store and we do more of the corporate-type functions, like human resources and handling legal and insurance matters," Jim said.

"The Bowmans are great to work for," said Kadryna. "They're hands-on people. They're very concerned about the community and they treat their employees very well."

Judy Myers has been the store's bookkeeper for 24 years, under five managements.

"We have a large senior clientele and this gives them a place to shop," Myers said. "I've shopped here ever since I got married and moved here. We have a great service to offer the community."

e-mail: niagaranews@buffnews.com

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