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Not even the global pandemic can squelch desire to serve at Cash Saver

The grocery business has required an “interesting adjustment” since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Memphis, said Rick James, Cash Saver grocery store chain owner.

“This is a time we have never experienced before,” James said. “People need to feel safe, and so we have required every employee to wear a face covering and gloves while working in all our stores.

Rick James of Cash Saver: “The communities we serve are part of our family, and family takes care of one another.” (Courtesy photo)

“Being safe from the coronavirus will be utmost in our minds for some time to come. I think it will be a while before things return to anything resembling ‘back to normal.’ Masks, gloves and social distancing is our new normal.”

For the past few weeks, James’ Castle Retail Group LLC has made temporary changes to maximize their service to a community under siege as Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris issued safer-at-home mandates to try to slow the spread of the virus.

Those restrictions were relaxed last week in the first phase of the Back to Business plan for Memphis and Shelby County.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, but never have we faced this kind of challenge,” James said. “Restaurants and bars closed down, and people started staying at home cooking again. And if they are cooking again, they need groceries and other supplies.

“Children are eating at home, so business was extremely steady. In addition to wearing protective gear, we closed our stores earlier than our normal business hours. But in a grocery store, social distancing is kind of difficult, but we do our best to comply.”

“This gave us time to sanitize our store every day and receive the food trucks. We used that time to make sure everything was fully stocked. Things like toilet paper and sanitizing wipes were hard to keep up with because those were some of the first things people stocked up on.

“Despite the challenges, we are committed to providing the best service we possibly can. Some of our employees have been with me the whole 30 years since I came to Memphis. We are all like a family, not part of a big corporation. The communities we serve are part of our family, and family takes care of one another.”

James is a first-generation grocer. His father made women’s shoes, but the elder James saw the future of shoemaking trend toward international markets. So, he steered his son into the accounting field.

“After I graduated with a degree in accounting, I went to work for a national grocery retailer,” said James. “But I had always liked working in a grocery store as a kid. So instead of going to work in the accounting office, I went through the manager training program. I worked with Big Stars and Piggly Wigglys in 16 different places. When I moved to Memphis, that was my 17th time moving. I married my wife, Cathy, and three weeks later, we moved to Memphis. We love Memphis.”

In 2004, James bought four grocery stores. One owner had passed away, and the other one was ready to retire,” James recalled. “I was working in their stores with the understanding that I would take over at some point. I was blessed to have a wonderful wife who had faith in me and believed in what my dream was. We both knew what we were getting into. With your own business, you’ll have your ups and downs. But we still love the grocery business.”

In 2011, James made a calculated move from the conventional grocery business to the “deep discount” grocery market. Deep discount grocers off consumers quality products using a store-brand strategy to offer both value and excellence that saves them big bucks in monthly grocery budgeting. Cash Saver is one of the most popular deep discount grocery chains in the country.

Courtesy photo)

James’ three stores are situated in communities where consumers seek a clean, friendly grocery which offers an attractive, cost-saving alternative to conventional grocery store chains with higher prices. Cash Saver stores appeal, not only to shoppers looking to stretch grocery dollars, but also to consumers who can afford to shop elsewhere.

“We are marking our 16th anniversary this year in the grocery business,” said James. “And I still love the business. Our three children have graduated from college and have all come to work in the business.

“Two of them graduated from the University of Memphis. But to have them all working with me, I couldn’t be happier. To know that they will continue the business when I am gone, every business owner wants that.”

James has always gotten a good laugh when he tells people his name.

“When I tell people my name is Rick James, it’s always good for a little fun,” James said. “I remember when the Super Freak album came out in 1981. I was working in Elizabethtown, Ky. One of my store employees bought the album and brought the poster from the album to work. He put it on my desk with a little note, saying, ‘Mr. James, may I have your autograph?’ That was great fun. I always tell people that I do know all the words to the song, but I can’t sing.”

Castle Retail Group’s three Cash Saver stores are located at: 1620 Madison Ave. in Midtown; 4049 Elvis Presley Blvd. in Whitehaven; and 1977 S. Third St., in the Southgate Shopping Center.

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