Grocery store employee retires after 50 years of fun


Aundrea Kinney/Review • Dave Wachholz retired from Knowlan’s Fresh Foods grocery store Sept. 3, after 50 years with the company. Although he has worked at many of the Knowlan’s locations over the years, Wachholz retired from the South St. Paul store, located at 225 13th Ave. S.

When 26-year-old Dave Wachholz, who at the time was fresh out of the Navy, started working as a daytime stock boy for Knowlan’s Fresh Foods on Sept. 3, 1968, he had no way of knowing he would be with the company for the next 50 years.

It would have been similarly unlikely that half a century ago he’d have known he’d be retiring on the anniversary of his start date.

In the days before his Sept. 3 retirement, Wachholz, now 76 and living in White Bear Lake, reflected fondly on his career and the many people he met along the way who made the work meaningful.

Wachholz said it was the people and the excellent treatment from the company that have kept him there so long.

“I’m looking forward to [retirement], but the people that are shoppers out there and the people that I work with, I’m going to miss them. I’m going to miss them a lot,” said Wachholz, who was, until retirement, the night manager of the Knowlan’s store in South St. Paul.

 

A job to enjoy

Wachholz explained how he loves getting to know customers and getting to the point where he could tease them and they would tease him back, an exchange he thrives on even with store leadership and coworkers. 

At work, Wachholz is known as a prankster, even going so far as to download a service bell app on his phone just to tease people.

“It’s just been fun all the time that I worked there. It’s not like going to a job. It was just enjoyable,” he said, adding that one of these days he’s going to have to grow up, but he likes where he’s at.

Work at Knowlan’s wasn’t always all fun and games, though. As night manager, Wachholz said he was expected to supervise the night crew and make sure they all keep working, but he enjoyed the work and took pride in the store, so instead of managing from the office, he worked alongside his crew facing dairy products, refilling eggs and pulling produce.

“I just can’t take that sitting around,” he said, adding that not being as busy will be a challenging part of retirement, though he plans to spend some of his time volunteering for a worthy cause.

Wachholz’s wife, Mary Ann, said that for many of her husband’s coworkers, the store provided their first job experiences, so he took them under his wing and showed them how to treat coworkers and customers with respect.

“And then in return they respect him, which is really cool to see,” she said.

Wachholz became known for thanking his coworkers for their hard work every day at the end of each shift.

“At first they would kind of look at me, and then from now on whenever they would leave, if I’m not around up front, they’d get on the loud speaker and say ‘Dave, I’m leaving now.’ Then I shout from wherever I am, ‘Thanks for the good job you did. Have a good day!’” he said. “They’re all good kids.”

 

Embracing change

After 50 years of working for Knowlan’s, Wachholz knows the store inside and out. 

He knows who to call if an order is late, if there are security issues or if there is a mechanical problem. He also knows where all the products came from and where they are located in the store, and he is the go-to employee to answer questions for many regular customers.

Wachholz noted that there has been quite a bit of change since he started, including the hand stampers used to price products giving way to Universal Product Codes, and company-level changes, such as the closure of various Knowlan’s grocery stores and rolling Festival Foods stores into the mix.

When he first started with the company, he worked at the store that used to be located in Roseville at County Road B and Lexington Avenue. He also worked at stores located at County Road B and Snelling Ave., Interstate 694 and Rice Street, and Hamline and Randolph avenues — all of which have since closed. Later, he split his time between the Maplewood and South St. Paul stores, the last two still-existing Knowlan’s locations, before eventually focusing his time solely in South St. Paul.

Wachholz also moved around in the store. After working part time for Knowlan’s for 30 years, he was able to fill a full-time opening in the produce department, leading him to quit his other job of just over 39 years as a pressman with West Publishing, which later became Thomson Reuters.

He worked in produce for six months, at which point he moved back into the grocery department, which was always his favorite.

“He’s a great guy. He’s been around a long time. He knows this company from the early days,” said South St. Paul store manager Tim Staiger. “I have worked with him on and off for 20 or 25 years. We both moved around stores over the years and we ended up being mashed up at the same store. ... I’m just really happy for the guy getting to ride off into the sunset after 50 good years.”

Mary Ann said the closer it got to her husband’s retirement, the more excited they got about spending time together.

“We never thought this day would come,” she said, adding that Wachholz has told her that he feels grateful to have been with the company so long in a job he enjoys, a rare thing today when most people only stay a few years with companies before moving on.

“That’s my second family because I can just — I can have fun with them. I can joke around with them and they know I’m joking around with them,” Wachholz said. “That’s going to be the hardest day for me at the store — it’s going to be [Sept. 3].”

 

– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com

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