A Baldwyn landmark and business is changing its name – and its owners as well.
Cunningham’s Food Mart became Super Valu Foods on January 2, 1988. New store owners are Dizzy Dean Johnson, his son, Randy, and Mel Hungate.
“We thought it was a time for change in the grocery business, so we decided to turn it over to younger minds and hands,” explained John Olen Cunningham.
“I’m 61 and getting close to retirement age,” Jimmy Cunningham added. “To preserve my health it was time to get out. The grocery business requires long hours and hard work. We’ve enjoyed it these many years and have created lifetime friendships because of the store.”
Cunningham’s Food Mart became a reality in April 1946. Jimmy and John Olen’s father, O.O. “Red” Cunningham, was in the poultry and egg business next door to Mr. Victor E. Davis’ grocery store. With the poultry and egg business on a decline and Davis ready to retire, “Red” Cunningham saw the opportunity to open his own grocery store. His son, Jimmy, was in the Navy but would soon be discharged and able to work at the store. John Olen and Joe would soon be able to join in the family business.
The first Cunningham’s Food Mart (located in the building next door to Baldwyn Discount Florist today) consisted of about 100 square feet.
“We started in the time of the coal heater in back of the store,” Jimmy said. “We would go and get each item and bring it to the counter for customers. Through the years the progress we were able to make in the grocery business was exciting – it’s a fast business with changes made every month.
“We introduced shopping carts to Baldwyn and air-conditioned shopping space,” Jimmy said. “We tried to keep up with the times through the years.”
In 1965 the store was moved to its present site and consisted of 7,000 feet. By 1974, the store was remodeled and was a 12,000 square-foot store.
Jimmy began running Cunningham’s in July, 1946. Ten years later John Olen came aboard full-time. Their brother, Joe, worked part-time throughout high school and one year in college. But after being a coach/teacher at Russellville, Ala., and working for Roadways in Memphis, he found his niche in the computer business instead. He is now the owner of Data Systems in Brookhaven as well as a salesman for IBM.
Almost every member of the Cunningham family (with the exception of John’s younger children and Tammy’s son) has worked at the store in some capacity.
It’s been a regular family-run business.
“Our family is excited about us selling out and having more time with them and being able to come and go like we want to for a while,” John Olen said.
“They’re (the family) pleased, but surprised. They’re happy that we’ll be able to visit with them more and spend more time with them and not be rushed to get back to work,” added Jimmy.
Both said that one thing that has meant a lot to them through the years is the later success of their part-time high school employees.
“We’ve introduced scores of young men and ladies to the business world,” Jimmy said. “They’ve gone on to become doctors, lawyers, salesmen, bankers, engineers and other things. Knowing that you’ve contributed to their beginning is a good feeling.”
Neither really has any definite plans for the future.
“I really haven’t got any plans yet,” John Olen said. “I hope to get back in some kind of sales work after I rest up for awhile.”
“First I’m going to catch up on a few things I’ve been delaying,” Jimmy said. “We’ll do a little traveling for about 60 days and then be ready to get back and find something to do. Super Valu said that they might could use me part-time.”
Both said they would miss the relationship of the customers, salesmen and employees. But only Jimmy would admit to missing the demand to rise early and get started every day.
“We wish Super Valu Foods a success with the store,” both men said. “It is one of the largest grocery concerns in the United States and they are dependable and provide the type of assistance needed to serve the customers well. We feel it (the store) will continue to progress.”