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Bong’s Grocery and Deli owner keeps prices low, says now is not the time to make money

Jolly Ghebreab, owner of Bong's Grocery and Deli, has decided to price his gas low ($1.99), offer to deliver goods to senior citizens, and refuses to mark up items. “Now is not the time to make money,” he said. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Jolly Ghebreab, owner of Bong’s Grocery and Deli, said now is not the time to make money. On Monday, he set his gas prices at $1.99.

“Whenever we get an updated price from our supplier, that’s when we change, so we got an email yesterday that we pay right about that, so we just took it to $1.99,” said Ghebreab, who also owns Jolly Mart. “It’s attracting customers, but mainly now it’s not about attracting customers, it’s about helping each other. This is part of what we want to do with the situation, to help.”

Ghebreab said he will not increase the price on any of the items he sells – even those in high demand.

“It’s not right to mark up as much as we can, because people are suffering right now,” Ghebreab said, alluding to the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s not time to make more money right now, it’s time to help. What you do for the community, you are doing for yourself.”

Ghebreab moved here from East Africa with his brother about a decade ago. He has been distributing flyers around the neighborhood informing people that if there is something they need, he can deliver it. He said every day, about eight elderly customers have been using that service. They make a list of the items they want, and then one of the workers will deliver to the person’s house.

Judith Gilmore, who has lived in the West Central neighborhood since 1974, said she received one of the flyers Saturday, and it didn’t surprise her Ghebreab was trying to help. She is currently setting up a construction pre-apprenticeship program, which was scheduled to begin in the fall. Ghebreab found out about the program.

“He told me, ‘We’ll print out flyers, we’ll put those in our bags,’ ” Gilmore said of Ghebreab and his brother. “You don’t even have to ask them for help, they’ll tell you.”

Ghebreab saw the need for the delivery service when he realized the major grocery chains were not delivering to the neighborhood.

Stephen Maurer, 73, received a delivery from Bong’s on Tuesday. The week before, he had ventured to Rosauers at 7 a.m. during the time it sets aside for the vulnerable community.

“There were a lot of us oldsters out to take advantage of that,” Maurer said. “I walk with a cane or a walker, so I don’t move very fast, and it felt awkward when I was in the grocery store. Today, I decided to do the Bong’s thing because it felt like a better idea to only have one person to be exposed to.”

When Maurer received his delivery, Bong’s was unfortunately out of toilet paper. Maurer was surprised when, a few hours later, Ghebreab reappeared with a few rolls of toilet paper, on the house.

Ken Cruz, West Central Neighborhood Council Community assembly representative, said he thinks it’s great what Bong’s is doing, mentioning that it always has fresh produce. Cruz said his sister is a regular there.

“There’s a lot of people that rely on that little store,” Cruz said. “If you went in there, you wouldn’t find this at any other convenience store – they sell individual diapers, so if somebody is short on cash, they can get what they need until they have more money.”