A grocery store appeared at 2136 Regent Street in April 1923, when F. J. Hoffman announced an “up-to-date grocery and meat market.” An ad proclaiming its grand opening promised customers not only a package of bacon but also that “Kiddies will get a free balloon.” Early the next year, Mr. Hoffman decided to take up farming and sold the store to the Universal Grocery Company.
The store opened in 1924 as the Universal Grocery and Randall Market Meats, part of the Universal Grocery Chain founded by Carl E. Hommel Sr., and his brothers. From 1912 to 1917, Hommel had supervised the dining cars on the massive special train used by Wisconsin Ringling Bros. Circus. In 1929 the Universal Grocery on Regent became part of the National Kroger Grocery chain. By 1949 the Regent Grocery had become Super IGA Store. Many still call the store “Joe’s” after its best known owner, Joe Heggestad, owner and operator from 1974 to 1995.
Under Joe’s management , the Regent Market acquired familiar features: full lines of fine meats and produce, high quality service, friendly atmosphere, and a sense of humor. The store was also nicknamed “The Little Store That Could,” and “The Little Store Where You Can’t Avoid Your Friends.” At his retirement, 500 customers gave Joe a party which made newspaper headlines. Mayor Paul Soglin officially declared it “Joe Heggestad Day.”
When the Co-op was founded in 1998, it did not seem likely that a grocery of any kind would continue, but almost 1,000 friends of the grocery came together to rescue it. In retrospect, it made perfect sense: the neighborhood had always felt as if it owned the store. Incorporating the co-op merely matched reality with perception. Since the Co-op’s founding, it has overcome many obstacles in its struggle to continue serving the community. But through member support and dedicated management, the Co-op grows and thrives.