For many, the instant at which an idea is conceived seems to be the roots on which the future grows. For what is now Price Chopper in Hardy, the roots of their 64 years of success began with a simple desire for lemonade. As the old adage goes, "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade." For Robert Clay, the first challenge was to get lemons before he could even consider making lemonade. This was the challenge on which Clay's vision would create the empire of food stores that have been a fixture in the everyday lives of nearly every one in northcentral Arkansas and southcentral Missouri for generations.
Prior to the establishing stores that have become a household name, Robert Clay served his country in the United States Navy as a Sea Bee where he was a member of one of the first groups of volunteers selected by the Navy from the Naval Construction Battalions in 1942 to lead the Naval Combat Demolition and Underwater Demolition Team. This program was the predecessor to the modern day Navy Seals. After his discharge from the service in 1946, Clay traveled to Hardy to visit his sister.
At the time of his visit, not only were the streets unpaved, but there were also no stock laws within the city and pigs ran freely within the streets. All the roads were gravel at this time from West Plains to Jonesboro and Batesville. Most trips at this time were taken by rail; many residents would ride the shipping trains to West Plains in the morning and return to Hardy the same afternoon.
After consulting with his sister and wife Cathleen, whom he had met at college in Conway, he decided to purchase a local grocery store from C.R. Horrell. At that time, the store was located in what is now historic downtown. Clay's daughter Renee Clay-Circle said the building was relocated in the same vicinity two or three times before moving the store, then named Piggly Wiggly, to the larger location in what is now First National Banking Company across from the present day location of Price Chopper.
In 1982 the historic flood destroyed the store, with water running five foot deep in the structure. The same night of the flood that destroyed Piggly Wiggly in Hardy, the tornado destroyed the Clay's Town and Country grocery store which was located in the Ark Center (Highland Square Shopping Center). This tremendous loss of two stores did not dampen the Clay's spirit.
The Hardy store was rebuilt high on top the hill where it is presently located so that Mother Nature's floods could not destroy the business again. Over the years, the Clay's added numerous stores to their chain in Ash Flat, Cave City, Melbourne, Salem, Mammoth Spring and Thayer. At the peak, the Clay's owned 22 stores with 1,200 employees.
In the early 1990s, Clay's daughter Renee purchased half of the Hardy Price Chopper from her father and the two operated it together until his death in 2008.
Clay-Circle was born and raised in Hardy and obtained her marketing degree from Arkansas State University. She said she has always been involved in the family business.
Clay-Circle said, "My father always kept up with the times, adding new ideas to the grocery business as they evolved."
She has followed in his footsteps. Clay-Circle has added a new cash register system and remodeled the store in the last two years. She and her husband, Nathan, who is an avid hunter, have recently opened a new hunting store inside Price Chopper. The Gun and Bow Rack handles a full line of archery equipment and guns. She said, "My father would be proud of Nathan's new store within a store idea."
Clay-Circle always gives credit to her staff, the community and customers. She said, "Without them, we would not have survived the last 64 years." From the Sawyers, who are the company's CPA's, to Steven Fisher, the store manager, and all the department managers, some who have been with the company for over 30 years, she said, "You are only as good as the people who work for you. I have four small children to raise and I am so lucky to have people who truly care about Price Chopper."
Price Chopper is a 37,500 square foot grocery store offering fresh meat, produce, sliced deli meats, pizza, frozen food, dairy, heath and beauty care, as well as the new archery and gun departments. The store is the oldest operating business in the quad city area.