J.M. “Mert” Rosauer, at age 19, bought a small grocery store on East Sprague Avenue in 1934. It was the Great Depression and he had to borrow $1,000 from his parents, also grocery store owners, to get into business. He paid them back in four years from the profits. He married his wife, Jessie Symbol, in 1935. She took out a $75 loan and opened a beauty shop.
According to Jessie, the first store wasn’t a great success. But Mert eagerly tried again at another location, with better results.
In 1949, Rosauer built a new store from the ground up at Third Avenue and Oak Street in Browne’s Addition. That store, sometimes called Spokane’s first “supermarket,” is still in operation, though it’s been expanded to many times its original size.
After 50 years of building stores and running them, Rosauer sold his stores in 1984 to one of his main suppliers, URM Stores. The grocer had sat on the URM board for many years. The large food distributor had many business divisions and it seemed like a good fit.
But after five years, URM management was looking to sell the chain of 25 stores. The employees voted to modify their labor contract with ownership, and they became the owners in 1990. Ten years later, the employee group sold the stores back to URM. In the new URM era, stores have been added in Yakima, Bozeman and Meridian, Idaho.
The roof at the Rosauers store on Francis Avenue, about 12,000 square feet of it, collapsed from a heavy snow load in 2008. No one was hurt. But it took four months to repair the roof and reopen. CEO Jeff Philipps said the cost would run in “the millions.”
Mert Rosauer and his wife served in many civic roles and gave generously to their church, the arts and Gonzaga University. He died in 1990 at age 76; Jessie Rosauer in 2014 at age 99.
Today, there are 22 stores – carrying the names of Rosauers, Super 1 Foods and Huckleberry’s Natural Market – in Spokane and across the region, from Hood River, Oregon, to Bozeman, and from Colville to Boise.
– Jesse Tinsley
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