OPELIKA – Jimmy Wright began working in the Opelika grocery store he now owns when he was 12 years old. Wright’s Market in Opelika began 46 years ago as a 2,100-square-foot convenience store. The now 22,000-square-foot independent grocery is the Bronze Alabama Retailer of the Year in the Annual Sales $5 Million to $20 Million category.
Wright’s Market, a member of the Alabama Retail Association since 2006, was one of 14 retail businesses honored today as Retailers of the Year. The Alabama Retailer of the Year awards, started in 1999, honor retailers who have demonstrated growth, innovation and a commitment to their respective communities. This year’s winners came from a pool of more than 70 nominees.
“My dad and my mother – Gary and Linda Wright – worked for the previous owner. I bought it in 1997 and rebranded it as Wright’s Market in 2003,” said Wright. Under the Wrights’ leadership, the store expanded three times over the years, but it was the second-generation-operator-turned-owner who had the vision to “think outside of the physical box.”
The 2019 Retailer of the Year judges made note of “the phenomenal evolution” of Wright’s Market. In 2014, Jimmy Wright repurposed a van and began a shuttle service for his customers who no longer could drive to the store. Two years later, in 2016, Wright’s Market moved into e-commerce. The next step was serving nearby rural communities. Helping accomplish that goal are a 2018 federal grant that allows the store to offer half off fresh produce to certain customers and a refrigerated “Wright 2 U Freshmobile.” The refrigerated van was made possible by another grant through Alabama’s Healthy Food Financing Program.
“We can’t turn away from being a traditional, brick-and-mortar retailer and the values that have made us successful over the years, but there is a new frontier,” said Wright. “We are trying to … embrace some of the changes out there and compete and stay relevant.”
Wright’s Market is the only independent, single-store grocer nationwide involved in a pilot program that will allow those on federal food assistance to use their SNAP benefit card to pay for purchases online. That program is expected to launch in November. The store also has its own app.
Wright and his store have received local, state and national recognition over the years. In 2015, he was the Opelika Chamber of Commerce’s Spirit of Opelika award winner; in 2016, he won a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Community Excellence Award; and in 2018, the Alabama Grocers Association presented him with the Spirit of Alabama Award for his efforts to eliminate food deserts in Alabama.
With “the accomplishments that he’s made and the technology that he has introduced to his store, you would assume he was in a larger urban market, but we are in a smaller community, and he’s ahead of the game on that, so that makes us double proud of him,” said Pam Powers-Smith, president of the Opelika Chamber of Commerce and Wright’s nominator.
“Jimmy Wright is a retailer who stands out every day for Wright’s Market customers, his 32 employees and the greater Opelika community,” said Alabama Retail Association President Rick Brown.
The Alabama Retail Association represents retailers, the largest private employer in the state of Alabama, before the Alabama Legislature and the U.S. Congress. Through sales of food, clothing, furniture, medicine and more, our 4,200 independent merchant and national company members touch almost every aspect of daily living. Since 1943, we’ve worked to promote what’s best for the retail industry in Alabama. Whether voicing the retail view when public policy is made, educating members about issues that impact them, negotiating rates for benefits and services or communicating the retail story, the Alabama Retail Association and its members are better together.