By STEVEN COOK
NISKAYUNA — Don Bisgrove started at the Niskayuna Co-op in 1975 as the store’s general manager.
It’s a job he continues to hold today and will continue to hold until his official retirement next month.
He’s lasted that long, more than 38 years, he said Wednesday, with the help of his team of managers. He picked them over the years and they all stayed on.
“It’s real retailing,” Bisgrove said, “and that’s what they don’t teach today.”
It’s being able to leave the co-op in the hands of the people he’s worked with and trusted over the years that has Bisgrove retiring now, he said.
The 72-year-old is officially retiring May 30. He hopes to spend more time with his family. Bisgrove and his wife, Kris, will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. They have two daughters and eight grandchildren.
“That’s another reason to retire, to have some fun with them,” Bisgrove said of his grandchildren before joking, “until they drive me crazy.”
Bisgrove’s connection to the co-op goes back even further than his 1975 start as general manager. Bisgrove served as a stock boy at the store in high school, from spring 1959 to August 1962.
That experience, he said, gave him the basis for his work as general manager. He did all kinds of jobs then, including scrubbing the toilets, he recalled.
“I wouldn’t want to tell anybody to do something I wouldn’t do first,” he said.
He has also tried some things that didn’t work out. He recalled attempting to grind hamburger, “which I made a mess out of and I wouldn’t do that again.”
After college, Bisgrove managed a J.C. Penney store in Pennsylvania before returning to Niskayuna. After managing another local store, Bisgrove signed back on with the co-op.
His early work went toward getting the co-op back on solid footing after a rough stretch.
One of the first changes he recalled making was removing a sit-down restaurant. “That didn’t last long. I threw that out immediately,” he said.
That turned into a snack bar. Eventually, though, even that space was needed.
“We kept growing and needing the space,” Bisgrove said. “We used about every inch of this place.”
There were also the periodic remodels and changes in focus, the most recent coming in late 2012.
The co-op has also been focusing on locally sourced food, such as meat and baked goods, alongside national brands.
Bisgrove’s work and the work of everyone else at the co-op was recognized in 2012 with the C&S Wholesale Grocers Innovation Award. Last year, the co-op was featured with a front-page article in the trade magazine The Gourmet Retailer.
All that came after the opening of a ShopRite in 2011 in the nearby former St. James Square, as well as other grocery stores down Balltown Road. Against that competition, the Niskayuna Co-op has held its own.
Richard Gabree is taking over as interim general manager. He currently serves as assistant store manager and dairy manager. He’s also one of the many people at the co-op who’s worked with Bisgrove for years.
“Don’s just a wonderful guy,” Gabree said. “He’s a straight shooter.”
Bisgrove listed all the co-op employees who have had long tenures at the store, like Gabree. Knowing they’re there, he said, allows him to step aside.
“I feel now I can fade away and that this place is in good hands all the way down the line,” he said.