Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Longtime Realtor buys Midway Mini Mart

Daily Inter Lake | January 10, 2021 12:00 AM

Victor “Vic” Workman knows a lot of things get better with age. He’s been a real estate agent in Whitefish for the past 30 years — almost as long as his newest venture, the Midway Mini Mart in Happy Valley, has been in business.

Workman is bringing an appreciation for the store’s long legacy, and his own extensive experience in the community, to his role as the new owner of the beloved convenience store on U.S. 93.

He took the mantle from Dan Scheffer and Melody “Mel” Watts, longtime Mini Mart owners of 34 years, on Dec. 15, 2020.

“My plans are to follow what they’ve started and be an all-around good little store for my neighbors,” Workman said.

Scheffer, who occasionally has been referred to as “the mayor of Happy Valley,” and his partner Watts are passing the torch to Workman in order to relax and travel after their many years of running the store.

“I’ve raised a lot of children on corn dogs,” said Watts as she thought back on her long career.

Before they embarked on their retirement plans, however, the pair had to find an heir who appreciated the influence of the Mini Mart for the members of the Happy Valley community. In Workman, they found a replacement who understands the small business is much more than your average gas station.

“They did just a great, great job here,” Workman said of his predecessors. “He [Scheffer] and Mel spent 33 years here, not only building a good business but having a good relationship with all the local neighborhood.”

At most convenience stores, he explained, about 75% of business comes from fuel sales, and the other 25% is made up of retail sales. But at the Mini Mart, it’s more of a 50-50 split, because the convenience store is just about the only shopping option in the immediate vicinity of most Happy Valley residents who live midway between Whitefish and Kalispell.

“This one’s more of a community, corner store,” Workman said, and that’s the atmosphere he wants to preserve at the shop going forward.

He told the story of one of the Mini Mart’s regular visitors, who stopped in after Workman took over and expressed how excited she was that the store was staying in local hands.

“We consider this our store,” the shopper apparently told Workman, and he promised he’s committed to keeping it that way.

But he acknowledged it takes more than just community spirit to run a successful business. When it comes to the nuts and bolts of operating the store, Workman admitted, “my learning curve is extremely steep.”

Even though Workman has worked as a prominent Whitefish real estate agent for three decades now, his retail experience is almost nonexistent. “I’m really starting from scratch,” he said.

But he’s more than ready for the challenge. Workman decided to embark on the enterprise in order to keep himself occupied as he gets older.

“There’s few people that have played more than I have over the last 30 years,” Workman said, citing all the numerous outdoor activities that have kept him busy throughout that time.

Now 61, Workman realized it was time to start focusing on pastimes that are a little less physically strenuous. When he saw the Mini Mart was for sale, it struck him as the perfect new endeavor to take on, while still maintaining his real estate sales.

Workman said he’s had a few skeptics tell him he’s “a little old” to be learning to navigate a new business, but he always replies, “I’m a little old to be lying around on the couch.”

Luckily, he said it’s been an easy transition so far, and feedback from loyal patrons has been overwhelmingly positive.

Workman said he has plans to make a few minor adjustments to the store, but the essentials will be staying the same. He expects to reconfigure the layout, add scanners at the tills to make for faster checkout and start accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

But, he reiterated the previous owners, “ran a real successful business here for a long time, so I’m not going to be making any major changes.”

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at (406)-758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.