March 30, 2020 – Barton, WI – The story about the old Otten Food Store in Barton ran in February 2018 during a series about some of the corner grocery stores in the West Bend area. The piece below was submitted by Janie Ripple-Kreis.
To go along with your articles about the old-time grocery stores, I thought you might like to read a poem that I wrote for Genie & Suzie Otten when they closed their store in Barton.
In December ’97, “The Otten’s Food Store” closed.
The market value of this business never was disclosed.
I thought about its “Net Worth,” and I took a good look-see
At this grocery store that started in 1893.
To help formulate a “Balance Sheet,” first I did subtract…
As “TOTAL LIABILITIES,” the things that Otten’s lacked:
No “Express Lanes,” no “Pharmacy,” no in-store “Tyme Machine”
No computerized registers, no fancy haute-cuisine.
No liquor mart, no videos, no photo-center rack;
No grocery carts, no banking branch, no tempting bric-a-brac.
No flower section to showcase fresh beautiful bouquets
No piped-in stereo system with music all ablaze
No restaurant inside the store, no patron discount cards;
No European glass display, no Security Guards.
No in-store printouts listing all the special giveaways;
No huge tanks filled with water & the fresh catch of the day.
No walls filled with magazines & greeting cards to buy;
No strange, exotic foodstuffs – hard to identify.
No ‘in-house baked goods section,’ with hot bakery to sell;
No chef employed to cook fresh meals & package them as well.
No full-time butcher to display the custom cuts of meats
(All of these things I listed under “DEBITS” on my sheet.)
Next, I needed “ASSETS” to try to accurately gauge,
And I added them to the large equation on my page:
The most important asset that the customer could sense
Was Otten’s friendly atmosphere (devoid of all pretense.)
A “Hi There, how ‘ya doing,” greeted those who came to shop.
(A welcome so authentic, just like being with ‘Mom & Pop.’)
Each customer was treated absolutely fair and square;
And no one remained a stranger, if once they had shopped there!
Each person there was witness to a clean-cut joke or two;
(And heard a few nostalgic quotes before his trip was through.)
Almost all of Otten’s customers loved to chew the fat;
(Some deep discussions started at the dropping of a hat.)
If one was pressed for money, that would surely be okay;
(Their groceries were put on a “tab” to pay another day!)
Genie’s views were widely known, ‘cuz he voiced them unafraid;
(His ‘religion’ was evident in every statement made.)
Conversations always started with “Who, When, Where or What;”
Conversations always ended with “God Bless You, Thanks A Lot!”
And Suzie’s calming influence, just complimented Gene;
Side-by-side, behind the counter, became her life’s routine.
Another reason customers kept coming back for more
Was ‘Cora’ who delivered goods right to their own front door.
The “ASSETS” clearly tipped the scales, I now could clearly see!
How could I place a value on such camaraderie!
So, with info I compiled, it’s my educated guess,
The bottom line is Otten’s Foods truly was “PRICELESS!”
Read more about Gene Otten: