Piper's Grocery & Homemade Candies
Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street is proud to feature one of our local contributing businesses in the monthly Small Business Spotlight!
This month, we met with Jill Kerns, owner of historic Piper's Grocery & Homemade Candies! She shared with us her family's happy heritage with the business along with her enduring fondness for Piper's and the community, plus an unwavering dedication to exceptional quality.
What is your job title and role?
My name is Jill Kerns and I am the owner/manager of Piper’s Grocery and Candy Store. Our amazing staff includes Sonya Shelton, Abby Bates, Anne Ballard, Mickey Davis, Krist Shoemaker, Linda Hamilton, Angie Resa, Mary McCall, Elizabeth Kerns, Molly Spoon, Elaine Prose, Brenda Glosser, and Amber Nickelson. Some of us work full or nearly full-time hours, some of us a few hours here and there, and some are seasonal, but everyone is super-important in making us the business that we are.
How long have you been in business in Chariton? Are you the first owner or is it a family/generational business?
I have the honor of being the second generation of the second family to own Piper’s! Piper’s Grocery has been in this building on the northeast corner of the square since 1905, the year Joe L. Piper bought and started his grocery business. Joe L. grew Piper’s Grocery and built it into the premier grocery store in town! Eventually Joe L.’s youngest son, Bob, took over the business and he along with his wife Ruth ran it until their respective deaths in 1978 and 1987. At that time my mother, Anne Kerns, had been working for Bob for several years and, as she says, “fell in love with the place”. After Bob’s death, my mom and dad bought the business from Bob and Ruth’s daughters, and with their blessing, kept the name “Piper’s” as they kept the candy making intact along with retaining the general character of the store. I moved back to Chariton in 1998 and bought the store from my parents in 1999.
Describe your business
We are best known for our handmade candies, and rightfully so! We started making our homemade candies in 1947 and continue using the same recipes and techniques Bob Piper developed all those years ago. Our candies are small batches and handcrafted, made from the highest quality ingredients. We have also added a few other candies (e.g., the “snapper”!) and expanded our candy business to include shipments to all parts of the country and the world. We continue to provide basic and specialty groceries, and in our deli, you can get fresh-cut deli meats and cheeses along with made-to-order sandwiches. We carry a variety of gift items, including locally produced gifts and foods.
Why do you do what you do?
I love this place! We feel very committed to and a part of this community. I love being able to contribute to this community where we can; I love being able to make a living doing something I really enjoy and provide jobs where others can do that too.
Was there a specific moment or realization where you made the decision to start your own business?
I had been living in Alaska for several years when my mom started talking about retiring – at the same time I was considering moving back to Chariton – it seemed perfect timing!! I have always felt Piper’s was a very special place and I felt honored to get to keep this friendly neighborhood grocery store/deli/maker of delicious homemade candies going strong on down through the generations. I still feel that way.
What inspires you to keep at it each day?
The people! I love the people who have shopped with us for decades - sometimes their entire lives - and I love meeting people who have discovered us for the first time. The folks from Chariton and the surrounding area, the people from other states and countries, are all so interesting to chat with and connect with. And of course my co-workers. They’re the best. 🙂
Why did you choose Chariton for your business?
It seems Chariton chose Piper’s! The people of Chariton have been incredibly loyal to us over the years and it truly means the world to us. With the friendly people, the beautiful square and countryside, and other interesting businesses, Chariton is a great destination for folks on a day trip. I couldn’t imagine a better place to be.
What are your biggest challenges as a business owner?
As a small business owner, it seems there are new challenges every day! Probably the biggest challenge for me is trying to find the balance between the old and the new – maintaining the historical character and integrity of Piper’s while adapting to an ever changing world.
What are your biggest rewards?
Waiting on the grandchild whose first stop after arriving at Grandpa and Grandma’s “has to be Piper’s”; getting to provide wedding favors and being told how “special” and “perfect” they were; taking that annual order for Easter eggs, knowing that in the fourth generation of this family “Easter just wouldn’t be Easter” without their Piper’s Easter eggs! It’s an honor and it’s humbling to get to be a part of someone’s personal history. It’s also quite rewarding to work with this great group of folks who are able to create very high-quality candies, who provide a warm and friendly customer experience, and who genuinely care about the customer and each other.