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Longtime shopkeeper retires, closes store (video)

By Melissa Crowe
Feb. 29, 2012 at 7:01 p.m.
Updated Feb. 29, 2012 at 9:01 p.m.

As he closes his store for the last time Wednesday, Tommy Hyak returns a greeting to a passing car.

The crowd started trickling in at 7 a.m., gathering around the register to buy Lotto tickets and soda one last time.

Tommy Hyak leaned forward on the counter's worn top, greeting T.T., his best Lotto girl.

"I'm trying to win before you leave," she said, waving a handful of scratch-off and lottery tickets as she left.

Once 7 p.m. strikes, Hyak will leave the business he has grown over the past half-century - Hyak Shop Rite.

"When I walk out that door, I'm not selling nothing ever again," he said.

Hyak, 80, grew up in the grocery business.

His father, Tom, opened Hyak Grocery at 901 Juan Linn St. during World War II.

When dad went out of town, it was up to young Hyak, then 14, to take over.

"He'd give me his wallet and that would be the cash register," Hyak said.

About the time he turned 30, Hyak and his brother, John, opened two independent grocery stores, Hyak's Shop Rite. One was on Goodwin Avenue, which closed a few years later, and the other on East Red River Street.

When Hyak started, a loaf of bread cost about 15 cents. During the gas war, a gallon of regular was about 19 cents.

Through 52 years of tending the shop seven-days-a-week, Hyak has watched the city and the country grow.

He remembers the Blue Laws in place when he opened that regulated what could be sold on Sundays and what businesses could be open.

He even made a practice of delivering groceries to shut-ins living in nearby apartments.

"We've gone through a lot of good times and bad times," he said.

Hyak sells a little bit of everything - groceries, gasoline, Lotto tickets and alcohol.

"I've never had an empty store, it's always filled to the top," Hyak said, surveying the shop. "I prided myself in it. Flour, spices, whatever you wanted, I had it."

Selling those items was just business. Hyak said the people and the relationships they made are what made that half-century worthwhile.

Regina Ybarbo Palacios stopped by the store about 11 a.m. Wednesday to say goodbye.

"I've been coming here for 44 years and now I have to go all the way across town to get something," she said, trying to guilt Hyak into keeping the store.

She grew up down the street from Hyak's Shop Rite. She remembers her father giving rides to anyone in the parking lot who needed one.

"This place is like family," she said.

Hyak's lone employee, Priscilla Martinez, started working there seven years ago.

"I grew up here," she said. "Pretty much every day is a good day. You meet tons of people and make tons of friends here."

While Hyak is not necessarily heading for the beaches, he said he plans to spend his retirement enjoying life and spending time with his grandchildren.

When you are your own boss, you end up making lots of sacrifices, he said.

"Family, marriage, you have to be here seven days a week, 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.," he said. "Being my own boss was a goal when we started, but we never dreamed it would get this big."

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