Hockers set to open doors to local supermarket’s future

Coastal Point • Tyler Valliant: State Sen. Gerald Hocker, left, and son Gerry are preparing to open their new grocery store at the former location of Harris Teeter, near Salt Pond.Coastal Point • Tyler Valliant: State Sen. Gerald Hocker, left, and son Gerry are preparing to open their new grocery store at the former location of Harris Teeter, near Salt Pond.On Sunday, March 26, at 9 p.m., the doors will close for the last time at G&E Supermarket on Cedar Neck Road in Ocean View.

On Thursday, March 30, at 7 a.m. the doors will open for customers one mile to the south, at the new Hocker’s Supermarket in the Salt Pond Plaza.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Gerald “Gerry” Hocker Jr., whose father, Gerald Hocker Sr., took over the Cedar Neck Road store from his Uncle Jake in 1971.

Even though Jake Hocker had the store for 18 years — less time than the 46 years Gerald Hocker Sr. has been at the helm — some longtime customers still call the store “Jake’s.”

As Gerry and Gerald Hocker stood in the new store this week, contractors swarmed like bees, and the buzzing of drills punctuated the air. Four brand new self-checkout stands at the front of the store were swathed in plastic, to protect them from sawdust.

Shelves in the nearly 50,000 square-foot store have been rapidly filling up with non-perishable goods and frozen foods.

A large display of jars of Kitchen Kettle Village goodies stands ready for local fans of the Lancaster, Pa., food emporium and its jams, relishes, pickles and more — many of whom have weighed in on social media in response to questions from Gerry Hocker’s brother Greg, who sought input on which Kitchen Kettle Village items to stock.

The new Hocker’s store will be the second-largest purveyor of Kitchen Kettle Village wares, right behind the Pennsylvania store, according to Greg Hocker.

The Hocker family settled on the sale of the former Harris Teeter property at the intersection of Cedar Neck and Fred Hudson roads in September, and plans then began on how to configure the new store and what new things to add.

“It’s like putting together a puzzle,” Gerry Hocker said as he walked the aisles of the new store, which will bring a third more retail space compared to the G&E store.

“We’ve worked really hard to change a modern store to our family store image,” Gerald Hocker said.

The long-term future of the G&E Supermarket building has yet to be decided, according to Gerald and Gerry Hocker. For the foreseeable future, it will definitely be used to prepare food for the family’s catering and food-truck business, they said.

“One thing at a time,” Gerald Hocker emphasized, adding that the old building’s longer-term use won’t be decided until after the busy summer months.

The existing gas tanks at G&E will continue to be open, but customers who don’t pay by credit card at the pump will now pay at G&E Hardware next door. There will be gas pumps at the new store, too — those pumps are currently in the permitting process, according to Gerald Hocker.

The family’s popular deer processing service will also continue at the old store. And while the old store carried a small selection of baits, the new store’s bait offerings “for the recreational fisherman” will be expanded. By popular demand, the store will now carry 20 pound bags of ice, Gerry Hocker said.

Meanwhile, customers at the new Hocker’s Supermarket will see some new features.

Just inside the doors will be a “sit-down” area where customers can eat sandwiches, soups and salads purchased at the store. A “self-serve soft-serve” ice cream bar, complete with an array of toppings, will also be added, as will a soda machine that allows customers to create their own flavor blends.

The new store will also feature a full line of linens — a nod to vacationers who perhaps forget to bring sheets or towels from home. Gluten-free and organic food availability will be greatly expanded in the new store, Gerry Hocker said. A tank for live lobsters will join the store’s seafood department.

Hocker’s Supermarket will continue to sell sushi and has contracted with the same firm that provided sushi for the Harris Teeter store.

Many of the fixtures in the store will be familiar to customers who shopped in the Harris Teeter store, which transferred to the Hockers with everything still in it — from checkout stations to deli slicers. The family has purchased new checkout stations and new pressure fryers to prepare the store’s fried chicken.

“We know how we like to make it, and we want to make sure to make it the same way,” Gerry Hocker said.

An additional produce cooler has been purchased to hold the store’s supply of fruits and vegetables, many of which are from local fields.

The company is hiring 25 to 30 more employees, in addition to the 300 or so who are currently employed across G&E, Hocker’s Supercenter and Hocker’s Deli. The additional employees will be needed, Gerry Hocker said, to keep the store stocked and to properly staff the additional space.

As the Hocker family celebrates its 70th year serving the local community, the father and son were a bit wistful about moving to the new building, while at the same time embracing the opportunities the new space will give them.

“You’re walking out of one, but you’re growing into the other one,” Gerry Hocker said. “It was an opportunity that we had to take. It gives us a chance to grow, and that’s what we’ve always strived to do,” he said. “This is a big leap for our family.”

Gerald Hocker reflected on his own career as he said, “There’s a lot of history. And this is my final chapter.” He said he feels fortunate that his children have stepped into leadership roles in the business.

Both men expressed gratitude to the community that has supported the family’s businesses through the years.

“It’s the loyal people that stuck with us that have kept us in business,” Gerald Hocker said.

The family sees the March 30 opening as a “soft opening — a very, very soft opening,” Gerry Hocker said, adding that he hopes to have the store up to its full capacity by Easter.