Western Memories: Morgan’s Rifle Food Market fed the community
Citizen Telegram Contributor
Buying locally-grown produce and locally-raised beef is trendy these days. But it can only be trendy now because it wasn’t the norm.
It wasn’t that long ago that Dick and Kay Morgan sold beef they raised on their ranch between Silt and New Castle in the Rifle Food Market, where the Moose Lodge is now, on East Third Street downtown.
The couple owned the market for 17 years before Dick, now 74, said he retired to ranching full-time.
“If you can call that retirement,” Morgan said. “It’s a lot more work than having a grocery store.”
Morgan grew up working on farms. His family didn’t own one, but a kid growing up in Rifle in the 1950s would naturally spend summers bailing hay, he said.
“If you wanted a job, that’s what you did. Not only for income, but also to be in shape for football,” Morgan said. “Everyone was kind of connected to rural life at that time – in this area, anyway.”
That connection to rural life served Morgan when he started working for City Market. He worked at City Market in Grand Junction for a couple of years while studying at then-Mesa State College before he joined the U.S. Army and served in Washington, D.C. for three years. When he returned to the Western Slope, Morgan picked up where he left off with the small regional grocery chain.
These days, it’s unlikely grocery store employees aspire to own their own markets. But Morgan had the knowledge and knew he could do it. He bought the old Safeway store, now the Moose Lodge, in the mid-1970s and transformed it into a true, locally-owned and operated grocery. He bought produce from local farmers when he could and supplied a good percentage of the meat from his own ranch.
Meat has to be federally inspected before it can be sold in grocery stores. Rifle Packing was around and did the inspections at the time and it was easy to prepare the meat there for sale at the store, Morgan said. The packing plant is gone now and Morgan said there would be no way to sell local beef in Rifle without hauling it to the Front Range for slaughter and packing before hauling back.
Morgan didn’t offer credit at the market as a general rule. But when people had trouble paying, he wouldn’t let them go hungry.
“These were hard-working people just having a tough time,” he said. “You’d have to be pretty hard-hearted not to help.”
Most people came back later in the week or month to pay, whenever they could, Morgan said.
A lot of folks needed help in the 1980s.
“I still won’t go to an Exxon gas station,” Morgan said. “They pulled a dirty job on us.”
He was upset when the oil giant pulled out of their oil shale project overnight in 1982, destroying the local economy. But he and others worked to piece things back together. Thanks to people like musician Roy Clark, who donated his $30,000 fee for the fair performance that year back to the Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce, Morgan and others were able to help local businesses through the chamber.
Morgan’s family moved to Rifle when he was in the sixth grade. He started dating his wife, Kay, the next year, after she invited him to a Rainbow Girls Dance at the Masonic Lodge. They’ve been married 56 years and the couple has been part of the fabric of the community for decades. Today, Morgan manages his ranch between Silt and New Castle and hopes his grandson, Derek Spaulding, might be able to take over the operation one day.
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