“He was born to be a Grocer”
His first job was to keep the potato bin full. Fred Ball was 10 years old and doing what he did most every day in the summer, playing street ball with the kids who lived in the neighborhood surrounding his parent’s store. Then the voice would come from the entrance of the store. “We need potatoes,” said Sidney. And Fred went to work. There would be a pile of 10-pound brown sacks and he would fill the sack up, put it on the scale, then put it in the bin and then head back outside to play again.
Often, he would come outside with the smell of Mollie’s meatloaf wafting in the air. World War II had broken out, and mothers and wives working at the Defense Plant were struggling to find the time to make dinner for their families. No problem, Mollie said. We’ll make take-home dinners for you. The take-home meatloaf became famous throughout the neighborhood. But Mollie’s meatloaf wasn’t the only change brought about by World War II.
The war changed the economics of everything. During the war, that’s when small businesses began to expand and grow. The Ball’s expanded too, opening their third store in 1948 and unveiling another innovation. The store at 34th and State, was Kansas City’s first large-scale supermarket. Once again, the skeptics said it was doomed to fail. No credit, no deliveries, too far out of town.
The supermarket, however, was so successful that the Ball’s opened another one in 1956, the same year Fred graduated from college with a business degree and joined the business full-time. Fred had grown up in the business – literally.
Mollie and Sidney worked six days a week, so when Fred was a baby they took him to the store and he would play in the upstairs loft. When he started school, Mollie would come home after school. In the summers he was at the store every day.
There was never a question of what he would do. Fred was ingrained with the flow of the business. One Saturday he was a checker at the store and the next day, Sunday, he married JoAnn, his high-school sweetheart. Sunday was his only day off Fred said with a smile.A year later, Fred was named Store Manager. In the mid-60’s, he became the President of Ball’s Food Stores. From that day on, Sidney didn’t tell him what to do. Fred would ask him, what he thought about something, but Sidney never told him what to do.
By the mid – 70’s, Sidney and Mollie – both in their 70’s – turned over control of the company to their only son. That was the good news. The bad news was that he was greeted with rampant inflation throughout the country. Buying power was dropping as food prices were rising. Fred’s solution was to try a new concept – a bare bones, warehouse market with the lowest possible prices.It was an idea whose time had come, and the results were immediate. Customers stormed the Price Chopper stores, often requiring the doors be locked in order to control the number of people in the store at any one time.
By the end of the ’80s, the company had grown to 13 grocery stores. But in 1989, the team of Mollie and Sidney Ball was broken up when Mollie passed away. She had continued to come to work daily in her mid-80s, and empasized her people skills, high values and respect for others to some new teammates: David, Diane and Debbie Ball, children of Fred and JoAnn Ball, grandchildren of Sidney and Mollie Ball.