The Rex’s Market grocery store in Choteau changed hands last week as owners Doug and Julie Peterson closed the deal with Ron and Lori Arambarri, owners of the grocery stores in Lincoln, Fairfield and Stanford.
Lori Arambarri, in an interview on Friday, said she and her husband are keeping all the existing staff, including managers Dan Nyberg and Karen Lohman, and do not plan any major changes in the larger of the two grocery stores that serve Choteau.
“It’s a such a fine-tuned running store. There’s not going to be a lot of changes that the general public would probably notice,” she said.
There were a few hiccups in the initial sale as it took several days for the Arambarris to be able to process EBT cards for nutritional benefits through the state and federal governments and for processing Rex’s gift cards and American Express credit cards. By late last week though, the store was again able to process the gift cards and American Express and is still working on the EBT issue.
“We want to strive to keep that store functioning the way the community likes it. We want to make people happy over there,” she said, adding that she knows they have some big shoes to fill.
Lori said they love Choteau and are happy to have been able to purchase the store and are happy for the Petersons to pursue new dreams.
“We’re proud of the store and proud of the people who are working there. What more can an owner ask,” she said.
In an interview on Oct. 3, Doug Peterson said this is the first time the business will not be operated by his family since his father, Rex Peterson, purchased the grocery business from Hampton Bloom in about 1948.
Doug said Bloom ran his grocery store in the building that is now Leavitt Insurance Services on First Street Northwest, but moved out in 1941 and into a main street location in the building (now the Choteau Art Studio) next to the old Citizens State Bank.
When Rex got out of the military after World War II, Doug said, he came back with his bride, Edith, whom he met in Fort Dix, New York, and bought the store from Bloom.
Doug grew up in the grocery business too, working after school, and earning his first paycheck at a rate of $.25 an hour. After graduating from high school in Choteau, Doug attended Rocky Mountain College in Billings. He and his wife, also from Choteau, returned to Choteau in the early 1970s and joined the family business.
In 1985, Doug made the decision to build a new, modern grocery store for Choteau. Despite the naysayers who told him he was crazy to leave Main Avenue, he built the new store on First Avenue Northeast, with a large parking lot.
The new store, which opened in July 1986, was brightly lit, had a spacious, open feeling and allowed Doug and Julie to focus on providing the best selections of produce, meat and nonperishable food and household items that they could.
The store is known for its wide variety of wines and beers, and for the freshness of its meats. Under the Petersons, the staff there is consistently friendly and helpful and the store is clean and uncluttered.
Doug said the business employs about 30 part-time and full-time workers on average, with a few less in the winter and a few more in the summer. Many of the part-time jobs are filled by Choteau High School students.
Through the years, first Rex and Edith, and then Doug and Julie, have also been very community-minded, donating generously to different fundraisers and helping clubs and civic organizations order food for events.
Doug said he and Julie have loved their time with the business, but both wanted to try something different now. He said they plan to divide their time between their homes in Choteau and Arizona, to travel and to enjoy new things.
Doug said the best part of operating the business was, for him, always being able to work with his family — his parents, his wife and their son, Derek — the many amazing employees who worked at the store with him for years, and all his customers, who he referred to as his guests.
He said what he will miss the most about the store is “the people, unquestionably.”
In a bit of grocery store trivia, Doug said the product that has gone up in price most since his dad’s days is canned salmon. When his father was starting, pink salmon cost $.15 for a pound and red salmon was $.19 for a pound. Now, he said, pink costs $5.19 for an eight-ounce can.
Lori Arambarri said she and her husband, who live in Lincoln, were interested in Rex’s Market because of its location and its stellar reputation.
“We try not to look for anything that is too far out of our range as far as driving,” she said, adding that they have been to Rex’s several times. “It impressed me that it’s very clean, very personable. … Doug and Julie did an awesome, awesome job.”
Arambarri said as new owners they have no changes planned for the selection of goods, hours of business or staffing. They will continue to purchase goods for the store through Associated Food Stores Inc., which sells the Food Club brand.
“It might come down to different ways to display your meat packaging for example, but as far as quantity, quality, variety, that’s not going to change,” she said.
She said Lohman and Nyberg will stay on as managers with the same freedoms they had with the Petersons as owners. “We’re not going to make any big changes,” she said.
The Arambarris both have worked in the grocery store industry most of their lives. Lori is an Oregonian, born and raised. Ron was born in Idaho, but grew up in Oregon.
He started working for an Albertsons grocery store when he was 16 years old and continued on, eventually working in sales and teaching at the corporate level. Lori worked in the office at Albertsons in bookkeeping. Between the two of them, they have almost 70 years of experience in the grocery industry.
They moved to Montana in 2004, when they purchased the D&D Foodtown Grocery in Lincoln. They expanded their grocery store holdings in 2013, when they purchased the grocery store in Fairfield from Gary Hauer and renamed it the R&L Eagle Grocery. In September 2018, they acquired the grocery store in Stanford and renamed it D’s Supermarket.
When they are not working, the Arambarris are involved in the Lincoln community and enjoy hunting. Ron is a member of the Lincoln Volunteer Fire Department and Lori serves on the department’s board. They are both members of the Lincoln ambulance service, and Lori is also a member of the Lincoln Community Players theater group.
Rex’s Market is open seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. The store also has a deli that sells corndogs, sandwiches, daily soup, salads, fried chicken, rotisserie chicken, and other deep-fried items along with meat and cheese trays, and a bakery that makes special occasion cakes and other baked goods. Rex’s is also an outlet for purchasing Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks fishing and hunting licenses.
Rex’s Market is one of two grocery stores serving the community. The other is the Mountain Front Market, owned and operated by Jill Owen. This store specializes in organic and locally sourced meat and produce, bulk spices, gluten-free products and environmentally safe household cleaning products. Owen has the store up for sale.
People can also buy milk, pizza and deli sandwiches and a limited selection of beverages, snack foods and canned goods at the Main Street Express convenience store, open seven days a week. Baked goods are also available Tuesday through Saturday from Bylers Bakery.