Stepping through the Roosevelt Market's front door in Boise is like going back in time. Back to an age when free-standing markets and their regular casts of characters created cultural hubs for neighborhoods. Customers walked to buy groceries, greeted familiar faces, and charged purchases to their family's account. None of this has changed for the East End's beloved market -- not even the charge accounts.
Walt Appel is a regular customer who walks the few blocks from his house every day with his eleven-year-old basset hound Buster. Walt moved to Boise just four years ago, but already has a great fondness for the market and its community.
“For me it’s like reliving my childhood almost,” Appel says. “You get to know all the people who go in there, the ‘usual suspects’, as well as other people.”
Roosevelt Market has a rich history, some of which is written in a guest book kept behind the store's candy counter. The book's withered pages contain numerous stories from men and women who attended nearby Roosevelt Elementary and visited the store as kids, spending their allowance on soda pop, Moon Pies, and giant Jawbreakers. One man describes shaking President Franklin Roosevelt's hand in 1937 during a nearby visit. All entries are from customers who are delighted to find the little store is still around.
In spite of its devoted clientele, the Roosevelt Market has struggled at times to remain viable. The store was even forced to close briefly in 2003. Patrons worried it had met the same fate as other neighborhood markets. But after a six-month closure, Susan Wilder and her friend Nicki Monroe left their jobs to purchase and reopen the market.
“She and I had become discouraged with the big corporate business, and this fulfilled the need of going back to being in touch with people,” Wilder says.
The store's owners strive to maintain the market's nostalgic atmosphere and family culture. To make sure their business is viable, they've introduced new services. The market hosts neighborhood block parties in the summer and offers take-home meals in fall and winter. But it's the store's alcohol license that’s helped the most. Wilder admits several patrons were apprehensive of the change.
“They were afraid that this was going to turn into a bar, and that was one of the things I was adamant about, that this would not turn into a bar,” Wilder says.
To prevent fostering a bar atmosphere, all beer and wine is kept in a back room behind closed doors. Wilder says this was a conscious choice to protect the store's most valued clientele: children.
“We wanted to really let people know that the children, in our eyes, are our customers,” she says. “They bring their parents here. This is their store.”
Manager Josh Wilder - Susan's son - understands the store offers local kids something special.
I think it’s the trust and respect a little bit, and the different attitude here,” Josh Wilder says. “Like, if the kids come in they know they’re ok to come in and be themselves, you know, and they still get a little parenting too.”
Every weekday afternoon between 3-4 p.m., as soon as the bell rings, elementary school students file into the store for treats.
“We always shut down for about an hour for their sugar rush,” Susan Wilder says. “Cause when they all are in there you can’t really serve sandwiches…But they’re number one, they’re our priority.”
Ask anyone working at the Roosevelt Market what makes their work valuable, and the answer's the same: The children. It's a feeling they know is reciprocated.
“To see them ten years later as teenagers or as young adults to come back in and still appreciate it, that’s pretty neat,” Josh Wilder says.
When children visit the little store today, they may not know this is what all grocery stores used to be like. And they probably don't know it's the only free-standing neighborhood market of its kind still operating in the Treasure Valley. Roosevelt Market may represent an age they don't remember, but if its guest book is any indication, this store is one they will not forget.
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