Eastside/Westside Market of Manhattan
By Chelsea Matticks
"Hello! This is Terry. I am good, how are you?" Terry Olson said, answering her cell phone for the third time.
As the owner of two fresh produce and garden supply stores, Olson is always busy.
Olson said her interest in gardening began when she was a young child. Gardening was a hobby of the Edmunds family as she, her three sisters and five brothers grew up. Leon and Pat Edmunds decided their family of nine children and a St. Bernard had outgrown their house in town so they bought a little farm on the outskirts of Manhattan. What started out as a little farm turned into one of the biggest, family-owned greenhouses in Kansas: Kaw Valley Greenhouses.
When she entered college, Olson thought she had had enough of working in the horticulture business and set out to study pre-medicine at the University of Kansas in hopes of someday becoming a doctor. After not doing as well in chemistry as she thought she would, Olson realized that being a doctor was not for her, and she transferred to Kansas State University to begin studying horticulture. Soon, she stopped going to school and decided to start her own business selling fresh produce and garden supplies.
In 1976, Olson purchased a tiny shack on the east side of Manhattan and started Eastside Market. Buying plants was considered the "cool thing" to do.
"In the 70s, people were very interested in buying plants, people would buy plants instead of buying furniture," she said.
But selling plants and produce because it was the "cool thing" to do was not Olson's main motivation for owning the markets. Satisfying customers and spreading her love for gardening and fresh produce was very high on her priority list, and still is today.
In 1979 Olson decided that Eastside Market was getting so busy it was time to open another store. Buying land on the west side of Manhattan, which other people also wanted to develop, Olson and her sister decided they could do it themselves and decided to have a strip mall built there. Not long after it was built, they rented space to other business owners and used the store on the end to start what is now known as Westside Market.
Since the 70s the markets have expanded from selling locally grown produce to include houseplants, Christmas trees, Kansas-grown bedding plants, Kansas food products, assorted gift items, fruit baskets and gift boxes. Both markets sell a variety of Kansas made products from around the state such as Alma cheese, milk from the Emrich Family Creamery and beef jerky made in Manhattan.
With the rapid growth of Manhattan over the past few years, the increase in competition is the biggest challenge the markets face today. Most people grab everything they need when they go to a box store and often don't think about buying local produce because going to these one-stop-shop stores is simply more convenient. Olson said it is important to buy local produce because it supports local farmers and keeps money in Manhattan.
Olson has won awards over the years including the 2007 Award of Merit Retail from the Kansas Department of Commerce, the 2003 Woman-Owned Business of the year from the Kansas Department of Commerce, the 2000 Award of Merit from the Kansas Department of Commerce, the Vocational Business of the Year 1999-2000 from the Manhattan Konza Rotary Club and the 1999 Sam Walton Business Leader Award.
Olson said her motto for running her markets has always been "Fine fruits, fresh veggies, and fast, friendly service." Customers seem to agree.
"I love shopping here because you guys are a locally owned business and carry produce that is locally grown," frequent Eastside Market customer Gigi Kjos said. "The service here is great. Everyone has smiles on their faces and is more than willing to help. The parking here is great too. Not like Wal-Mart, here I can just drive up and park, I like that."
Customers said they shop at the markets because of the quality of the produce and the customer service.
"I love shopping here because I can get good, fresh, locally grown produce, customer Natalie Pennington said. "The produce looks and tastes way better here than it does when I get it from, say Wal-Mart or Dillons. And the customer service here is awesome."
What does Jane Gibson, accountant for Eastside and Westside Markets, like about the Markets?
"Well, I am surprised I still work here actually," said Gibson. "I mean that in a great way. I usually don't work for people long because I get tired of it, but I love working for the Markets. I really like the change of seasons that the market has, you know, it goes from plant season, to peach season, to apple and pumpkin season, and to Christmas tree and gift box season. The Markets have a specific rhythm to them, and I like that. You would think that being the accountant it wouldn't matter that much to me because I just deal with the paper, but each season I pay different bills and I like the change."
Gibson said one thing she most enjoys is that when business is slow in the winter she has an opportunity to travel. Most accountants don't have the opportunity to do that.
Olson will continue to work hard to provide the products and selection that her stores offer and take great pride in doing so. She also strives to satisfy customers as well as employees.
"Dropping out of college and starting Eastside and Westside Markets have been one of the best things, I haven't regretted it one bit," said Olson.