October 20, 2021

Putting M in community

The DeRuyter Big M grocery remains a local touchstone

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Tom Fowler, co-owner of the DeRuyter Big M, saw a produce case like this in another store and had one installed.

DeRUYTER — Joe Pullman makes it a point to get his food at the DeRuyter Big M.

“I like to go,” the Truxton man said. “I like to get the Sunday paper. I always have fun. … It’s such a great store.”

Tom and Laurie Fowler of Cazenovia bought the store on Route 13 in December 2009 from Tom’s parents: Roger and Gloria Fowler, owners since the 1990s.

“We lived in Michigan at the time and decided to buy the store,” Tom Fowler said. “I was in the beauty business for 30 years. I worked for L’Oreal. Laurie is a dental hygienist.

Tom was traveling constantly for his job. He wanted to be home more. Laurie found a job at a dentist office when they moved and still works as a hygienist every other Wednesday, because she loves it.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Laurie Fowler, co-owner, still does one day every other week as a dental hygienist. She’s a natural with flowers, Tom said. She’s also a master gardener.

 

Their independent store has 25 employees, including the Fowlers, and half of them are part time.

“It’s going well,” Tom Fowler said. “Right now it’s kind of leveled off to a sustainable level. It’s slow in the winter. We will have six weeks after the Super Bowl. It’s quiet. We have a lake here. It’s quite busy.”

Tom Fowler said there’s a lot of paperwork in the business. And you need to be good with people.

“You need to be patient,” he said. “A lot of what we do is inventory and having enough on the shelves, making sure you are bringing in new items. Making sure everyone is happy.”

They work to stay fresh and current.

“You have to understand computer programs and be able to fix them,” said Laurie Fowler. “We have a lot of people with computer savvy coming to work on our computers.”

Fowler said his father told him he couldn’t do the business today. “’Everything is so fast and different than it used to be,’” his dad told him.

There are new products coming out every single week, he said.

“New Coke coming in,” said Laurie. “We have five new things for Coke coming in Thursday.”

“I thought it was interesting there are 50 kinds of Oreos,” said Larry Small, the night supervisor.

Snow birds and snowmobiles

The snowmobile business has been great this year, they said.

“We have never seen so many sleds,” said Tom.

Trails stretch from Binghamton to DeRuyter and farther north.

“All the businesses appreciate it,” Laurie said.

After snowmobiling, the snow birds come home and people go to the lake. Then after summer, there’s hunting season.

Hunters like to have pork butt to make their sausage because venison is so lean. And the Long Island and New Jersey people like beef bacon.

“We live and die by the season,” Tom Fowler said.

The store delivers on Thursdays — Tom Fowler makes the run. “Two of them say, ‘By the time you get here, can you bring in the mail?’”

People come to socialize and find out what’s happening, he said.

“You have your morning regulars then you have your afternoon,” said Laurie. “Then there’s people you can see every single night. There are people that shop every morning and every night.”

One fellow is in every Sunday for a frozen pizza, Tom Fowler said. “Every Sunday.”

Laurie’s pies, Calvin’s syrup

The store sell Laurie Poole’s pies. The Truxton woman, of Poole’s Diner, brings pies in three times a week. Calvin Wood of DeRuyter supplies maple syrup. Hudson eggs come from Baldwinsville. Pennsylvania peaches are a big hit in the summer. Corn comes from Steve Best in town and Reeves’ in Baldwinsville. Milk is bought from Byrne and Trinity Valley.

“We sell high-end milk,” said Tom Fowler. “We don’t sell cheap milk.”

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Tom Fowler of Cazenovia shows off a specialty ice cream cake at the DeRuyter Big M. He makes deliveries to customers once a week.

 

Their chicken tenders are pressure fried and Friday fish fries are popular. The store also pressure smokes meats to order.

“We can do 15 racks of barbecue ribs in an hour and 15 minutes. If you did it at home, it would take better than a day,” said Tom Fowler.

“We do a lot of stuff,” Small said. Store employees are an the lookout for what might sell. And the couple pays attention to TV advertising.

“You keep your eyes open,” said Laurie Fowler.

The store installed new floors, new cooler cases and a new entry.

Since the Fowlers love their dog, they had him in their office every day until his death.

The animal could not come into the store, because of regulations, so Tom Fowler built the office so the dog could enter and exit separately from the store. A new dog is in training and will eventually come to work with them.

“We don’t have any children,” Tom Fowler said. “Our family is here. All the people that work for us are like family.”

Good people “We have very good people,” Laurie Fowler said. “Most people have been here for quite some time.”

But it can be hard finding employees in a small town. With COVID-19, if one employee has to quarantine, another employee has to fill that slot. The Fowlers cross train.

“They contribute a whole lot to the community,” said Jim Hopkins, president of the Ruritan Club in DeRuyter. “They are really nice people. They work all the time.”

The Fowlers donate to the school’s all-night party and booster club, its mitten tree program for families in need at Christmas and the American Legion, as well.

Pullman, a clinical social worker who has a private practice as a counselor, has been shopping there for five years. He does shop in Cortland, but when in Truxton, he shoots over to the Big M.

“I just made a comment to Laurie, ‘I can’t find peppercorn anywhere,’” Pullman said.

“’You are right,” she said. “I am going to look into this,’” he related. “The next time she spotted me across the store, ‘We’ve got those peppercorns.’”

“We try to make it fun,” said Tom Fowler.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Laurie Fowler, co-owner of DeRuyter Big M, says people are eating healthier and cooking more since the pandemic, judging by what they are buying.