Southern comfort at a convenience store

Published 12:00 pm Sunday, March 15, 2009

The store manager at the Korner Mart on Front Street speaks with a slight Southern accent, but it’s not the kind that comes from the Deep South, Texas, Virginia or the Carolinas. Where is he from?

About 10 years ago, Monroe Warren moved to Albert Lea from Kentucky. His uncle, born and raised in Albert Lea, suggested he move to Albert Lea.

He told him it was “a good opportunity to better myself,” Warren said.

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For two years, he worked at Trail’s Travel Center. Then eight years ago he switched to working for Kraus Foods at its Korner Mart stores. He became the manager of the Main Street store three years ago. About a year and a half ago, he became the manager for the Front Street store.

Kraus Foods owner Ron Kraus two years ago turned the Korner Mart on Broadway Avenue into a Dairy Queen restaurant and last year sold stores on Main and Front to Kevin and Tami Weitzel.

Warren, 29, met his wife while working as a cashier at Trail’s. Dawn worked the Pizza Hut Express counter there. They were married in 1998 and have two daughters, Kristine, 9, and Alecia, 7. They live in Albert Lea on Gene Avenue.

He said he enjoys working at convenience stores because he gets to know the customers and likes the connection the stores have to their neighborhoods.

“I enjoy the opportunity to talk with people and discuss daily things that go on with them,” he said.

Warren knows what the store regulars want and don’t want. He said that his cashiers strive to learn the likes and dislikes of new customers so they become regulars, too. He said he stresses the importance of friendliness to his staff.

“They are always smiling, always glad to see the next person walk in the door,” he said.

Warren said the convenience store often has shorter lines than its competitors, which pleases its customers.

The store’s building is about 24 years old, but the touch-free car wash is less than five years old, he said. The wash is an easy in and out for people on the west and south sides of Albert Lea, but it is sometimes forgotten or unnoticed by motorists on the other sides of town, where they wait in longer lines for touch-free washes.

Warren said he grew up across the street from a convenience store in Kentucky. He recalled when he was 7 he took his pennies to the store and clerk helped him count the coins.

“I just thought since then,’ That’s what I want to do’,” he said.

The Korner Mart features its own deli. They sandwiches made in the store, with 100 percent beef, turkey or ham, he said, not filler like some places.

“We try to sell quality, as opposed to quantity. We want people to enjoy the taste of the food. That’s what we are shooting for,” he said.

The deli menu also features tater tots, corn dogs, chicken tacos, breadsticks, breakfast sandwiches, biscuit and gravy sticks, and Hot Stuff Pizza.

He said some competitors try to make customers walk to one end of the store for pop and to the other for snacks. His store puts the snacks right by the pop cooler. The coffee is near the doughnuts and other breakfast food.

Warren said there are 13 employees at the Front Street store.

Four work full time and 12 part time.

Because the owners of Korner Mart live in Albert Lea, they seek to do business with Albert Lea-based companies. He said this helps keep the money spent at Korner Mart circulating in the community. For instance, if lights go out, they contact Thompson Electric. If there are hardware needs, they go to a locally owned hardware store, not a big-box retailer.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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