It truly all started when Lillian Zimmerman was a little girl, going to a small store with her parents. Lillian loved visiting the store every week and seeing all the groceries being sold. “I remember after each visit, I would come home and take things out of our cupboards and pretend to sell them. I had a little cash register, and I would run my own store. It has always been my passion.”
In 1973, Lillian and her husband, James (“Jim”), were newly married, living on their farm off Mount Pleasant Road in Mount Joy and working to build their life together.
In the early years of their marriage, they’d travel to a bulk foods store in Ephrata and when Lillian saw that the small store was going out of business, she approached the owner and expressed her interest. The owner shared information about the store, and soon a new family business was born in an old washhouse that was attached to the Zimmerman’s farmhouse.
Lillian placed a small sign at the end of their lane beside the mailbox, directing passers-by to go back a quarter mile off the road, to a little place she called The Country Store. “At the beginning, even though we were back in the boonies, people would drive for good quality products at a good price.”
“In November of 1978, we started out with only 20 items, mainly bulk foods like sugar, flour, chocolate chips and baking supplies,” she recalls.
“We didn’t really know how things would go and were just hoping to bring in a little extra money to support the family. And we ran little ads in the newspaper to promote our specials. On our 1st year anniversary, we ran a bigger ad and had overwhelming response! Everything sold out by the end of the first day of our sale and we had delivery trucks coming every day for the rest of the anniversary sale to restock.”
In the second year, the Zimmermans started the deli section and in 1985, they moved to the farm along the Manheim/Mount Joy Road. Initially, they didn’t own the property, but the owners “really helped us out with renovations on the four car garage,” which served as the store’s new location.
Along the way, the Zimmerman’s four children…Jamie, Angie, Donovan and Crystal, were born. The family grew and so did the business. Planning started in 1995 for a stand-alone location, which opened in December 2000 at 3140 Mount Joy Road, and included a new produce section. In addition, a special “spice room” was added, which offers a large variety of popular herbs and spices at great savings. Then, in 2008, the Zimmermans knocked down an existing exterior wall and expanded again, literally doubling in size and adding a gift shop that now features women’s purses, scarves, seasonal and holiday décor, candles, a full line of greeting cards, Corinthian chimes and bells, handmade natural soaps, essential oils and more.
The Country Store is truly unique today, with a little bit of everything and still grounded in family values and Lillian Zimmerman’s endless energy and positive personality. When asked if you can ever reel her in and contain her enthusiasm, Jim Zimmerman says “It’s not possible!” As Jim looks back on the last 35+ years, he counts the blessings of the Zimmerman family. “When Lillian initially came to me with the idea and we discussed it, I encouraged her to give it a shot. It was something she really wanted to do. At times she questioned starting her own business and I encouraged her to continue. It was a difficult time for us with managing the farm and getting started, but she persevered and…well, look what happened!”
“It’s been great and the store keeps our family busy.” Jim still works on the family farm, handles store maintenance, unloads trucks, and makes any necessary repairs. He also handles stocking the dairy section of the store, including the Swiss Milk, Turkey Hill drinks and ice cream as well.
“For Lillian and me, it gave our four children the opportunity to have a family work experience and be together every day. It was a common bond, and a common point of unity. Now, all of our children have grown up and are entrepreneurs. Every single one of them has their own business, is self-motivated and has a strong work ethic. We’re very proud of that!”
And the family that works together…stays together. “Everyone in our family still shops here. Jamie is involved in most of the daily operations and managing the business. Our son, Donovan (who owns Zimmerman Construction), built both sides of the current store. Angie helps out and Crystal takes care of ordering for the grocery department each week,” Jim says. And the Zimmerman grandchildren have also been involved, including James and Lillian’s oldest granddaughter, Shontel, who currently works as a cashier.
James and Lillian’s four children all helped in the store growing up, but Jamie took more of an active role. “As a teenager, I was just your normal store employee, helping out wherever I was needed,” he recalls. But as time went on, Lillian and Jim noticed Jamie’s gift for administration, organization and systems. When he graduated from Penn State with a degree in business administration and accounting, Jamie had great interest in applying his degree to running the store, but opted to work for CVS Pharmacy for 4 years as a store manager, prior to returning to “The Store” he grew up in. “It was good to work in the corporate world for 4 years and I was able to utilize several principles that I learned in the family business, without affecting the “family” part that is so important to our employees.
When plans began moving forward with opening the stand-alone store, Jamie had it in the back of his mind that he’d be coming back and rejoined the family business in August 2000, just prior to the re-opening in the new building.
As much as things have changed over the years, the one constant is the relationships the Zimmerman family and their employees have developed with each other and with their customers. “It’s wonderful! Fran Stauffer was our very first customer when the store started. She was our neighbor next door to our farm and still shops here on a regular basis. There’s another couple that have been customers since our very first year, and they ride here frequently on their bicycles,” Lillian explains.
“We draw customers from Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon, Baltimore, Philadelphia and other areas. People who moved as far away as Washington State, Montana and England, make annual trips back to visit family and will stop in to get everything they grew up on that they can’t get where they live. When they come back to Lancaster County, they come here,” Jamie adds.
The Zimmermans see all age groups on a daily basis, from young children, to married couples, to families and seniors. “Seniors really enjoy shopping here because we’re not too big. We have a little bit of everything, so you can do all of your grocery shopping in one place.
Mary Miller of Elizabethtown has been an employee at The Country Store for 15 years. She truly enjoys interacting with the customers, many of which she now considers friends after all these years. “The Zimmermans have been great, and really helped me with a flexible schedule when my youngest daughter went to school. That meant the world to me!” Two of Mary’s daughters, Bethany and Christina, have continued that tradition, working at the store as well.
“We have great employees and the customers love them. We treat them with respect and we don’t have a lot of turnover,” Jamie says. “Our employees definitely appreciate flexibility with schedules. We realize our employees have families of their own and sometimes they need to take care of them. Everyone truly loves working here and over the years, we’ve had families where a parent and children have worked here. Their oldest worked here and it went right down the line. Parents know we have a good positive atmosphere, no foul language and a supportive group of people. We’ve gotten letters from several employees that say this is the best place they’ve ever worked because of the friendships and relationships we’ve built with them.”
As The Country Store approaches 40 years in business, the Zimmermans are still motivated. “It’s still exciting to serve the community. We like people, we like to serve people and we enjoy being around people,” says Lillian.
And most days, they see a lot of those people around the famous Country Store deli counter, where they offer an extensive selection of fresh lunch meats and cheeses and other deli items at very reasonable prices.
“If you think about us compared to a chain grocery store or bigger market, we don’t have the “corporate overhead” or large scale advertising expenses to cover, we’re not running a trucking system, and we traditionally price our deli items less than competitors, because we make it up on volume,” says Jamie. “And because things sell well on a daily basis, our lunch meat and cheeses are restocked daily, which keeps everything extremely fresh!”
“When I was growing up, there were two grocery stores. One had their prices low, one had their prices high. The low price store sold their entire inventory, the high priced one didn’t sell as much and because of that the low price store’s inventory was always fresher and I always remembered that. Everything at our deli is always fresh and there isn’t a day that goes by, that we aren’t getting deliveries of lunch meats and cheeses.”
People also love The Country Store’s holiday party trays! “We offer traditional meat and cheese trays, veggie and fruit trays. We make them for a lot of family get-togethers, parties, funerals and church functions. We also handle sub fundraisers, where we’ll make the sandwiches for different organizations to support mission trips, school fundraisers, cancer walks and more,” says Lillian.
The store sources much of their produce locally as well. “Most of it comes from local farmer Duane Charles. We get a lot of our spring, summer and fall vegetables from him. He’s been our farmer for nearly 15 years. Rohrer’s in Manheim and Kafffman’s Fruit Farm and Market in Intercourse supply additional fruits and home grown potatoes almost daily as well,” Jamie adds.
“Running a store like this is a challenging experience, and change is constant. We never sit still and continue to offer new products all of the time,” Jamie explains. “We just added ready-made sandwiches for lunch and did a reset of the bulk foods department and added 150 new items, based on customer interest and requests. We’ve added a complete line of Shore-Lunch Dried Soup Mixes, dried peach chunks, organic Craisins™, twenty new candy items, and several new types of pretzels, including whole grain pretzel nuggets. We sell organic versions of some of our popular items. And our selection of coconut oils expanded as well.”
When asked if any more expansions were planned, the Zimmermans collectively smiled. “Nothing major is in the works,” Jamie says. “We may expand warehousing. But right now, we want to continue with what has worked for us…excellent customer service, a clean store, a great selection of products, the best quality and low prices so that our customers have a nice, friendly, inexpensive store where they can shop.
When asked why someone who hasn’t been to The Country Store before should visit…that little girl named Lillian, who played with a cash register and ran a pretend store in her childhood home, smiles and says with a gleam in her eye…“Just come and visit…and you’ll see.”
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