Traer grocery store welcomes new owners

Jill and Doug Eilderts outside of their newly acquired Hometown Foods grocery store in Traer.

Among an ever-challenging economic landscape, Traer’s grocery store continues to thrive under new ownership.

Jill and Doug Eilderts of Waterloo purchased the Hometown Foods grocery store from Lyndon and Joani Johnson late this summer. The Johnsons bought the business in 2011 from Jeff Walters, changing the name from Traer Supermarket to Hometown Foods.

In an August Facebook message the Johnsons announced the ownership change and thanked their customers for the years of support in Traer.

“It has truly been a pleasure serving the community of Traer and surrounding cities the last 9 years. We have appreciated the support you have shown us in our time here, and the relationships we have made.”

The Eilderts took over on Sept. 1st and have been hard at work putting their mark on the 6000 square foot store while continuing to serve customers through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We thought it was a good opportunity after we visited the store a couple times,” Doug Eilderts said. “We wanted to bring a nice, clean, bright store for customers so there’s a place people want to shop at here, rather than going to Tama-Toledo or somewhere else.”

Eilderts says their goal is to maintain the store design and product selection customers have gotten used to, but to give the inside some TLC. They have retained the majority of the previous staff and have kept the Hometown Foods name.

The Eilderts history with Hometown Foods starts with Jill who began a career at the Waterloo location in 1987. Through the years she worked her way up to office manager and then to store manager in 2007.

Twelve years later the Eilderts had the opportunity to purchase the Waterloo store from the Johnsons who also previously owned Hometown Foods locations in Traer, Hubbard, Gladbrook, State Center and Conrad.

When the couple learned that the Johnsons were ready to sell their last remaining Hometown Foods location in Traer this summer, they thought it was an opportunity too good to pass up.

Eilderts touts the store’s high quality meat selection and lunchtime deli service as features he believes sets his Traer location apart.

“They’ve had a really good following in the deli at this store,” Eilderts said. “Since we’ve taken over we’ve slowly expanded that menu and have brought on some different items to give regulars more than a few options each week. I think that’s been a good focal point in this town where there’s limited restaurant options for people to go to at lunchtime.”

Assitant Store Manager Meghan Renslow from Traer has been working at Hometown Foods for two years and said she felt an immediate impact when the Eilderts took over in Sept.

“It’s been phenomenal having them here,” Renslow said. “The amount of changes they’ve implemented in just a months time have helped us tremendously at the store level. Not only the look of the store but also making things easier for the employees.”

Hometown Foods in Traer employs a workforce of around 15 employees, four of which are full time.

“I honestly love my job,” Renslow said. “We have so much fun when we’re here and I enjoy working hard to serve my community. It’s rewarding to be able to help the town of Traer. We know that right now, especially with COVID, the service we’re providing has been a tremendous help especially to our elderly customers.”

During the past months of pandemic, a delivery service has been offered for customers who are limited in their ability to make it out to the grocery store. The store offers the service Monday through Friday to customers in the city of Traer. Orders that are called in by noon during the week get fulfilled and delivered anywhere in Traer city limits at no additional cost. The only requirement is a $10 minimum order. The store has made accomodations during this period to allow for contactless delivery so customers can feel safe shopping with their local grocery store.

Communities in northern Tama County have witnessed a period of broad turnover within the grocery store business this year. Along with the Hometown Foods in Traer, grocery stores in Gladbrook and Dysart have all changed ownership in the past 12 months.

Thankfully for residents in and around Traer they will continue to have local access to fresh produce, a meat counter, a deli and several aisles of pantry and home staples.

“The Traer Chamber of Commerce and its businesses want to wholeheartedly thank Doug & Jill Eilderts for taking a chance and investing in our community,” Traer Chamber of Commerce President Michelle Podhajsky said. “Maintaining a grocery store in our town is a linchpin to our local economy. Welcome, Doug & Jill.”