Stepping into Walnut Creek Country Market, one might first be intrigued by the store’s quaint size.
A plethora of Amish treats and snacks line the entryway to the store, creating a cheery, welcoming atmosphere. Customers are then greeted by a store employee who kindly asks them how their day is going.
This little grocery store is something seemingly different from other groceries, something unique, something special, something timeless.
“Small stores in small towns are almost non-existent anymore,” said Mike Planalp, owner of Walnut Creek Country Market in Upland. “I realized that we had to be something big.”
Planalp grew up on a farm here in Grant County and purchased the store back in 1991.
Although his main business is owning several Save A Lot grocery stores, Planalp has a passion for small-town, local stores. This passion is what led him to purchase the grocery store on Berry Ave. that is now named Walnut Creek Country Market.
“I’m kind of an entrepreneur by nature,” Planalp said. “So, when everyone else is playing golf, I love doing this.”
Planalp thinks of Walnut Creek as a labor of love. He owns the store not because he has to, but because he wants to and has a strong desire to connect with the community.
His entrepreneurial skills and heart for small-town businesses have come in handy when it comes to operating his grocery store.
Prior to becoming Walnut Creek, the store was called Dollar Smart, which operated in a similar way to Dollar General. When a new Dollar General store opened up right next door, Dollar Smart’s business began to decline, causing the store to struggle.
Entrepreneur Planalp knew that in order for his store to survive, something needed to change. So, he ultimately decided in 2019 to rebrand the store, and thus, Walnut Creek Country Market was born.
“Walnut Creek is actually a town in Ohio that is virtually all Amish,” Planalp said.
The goal of this rebrand was to create a unique small-town grocery store that offers products that places like Walmart and Dollar General don’t carry, in addition to conventional grocery store items.
By zoning in on Amish goods, Planalp was able to do just that. From pastries to popcorn to meats, Walnut Creek carries a wide variety of Amish eats and treats.
He believes that this rebrand allows customers to enjoy and appreciate the quality and taste of Amish goods.
“That’s kind of a uniqueness and specialty,” Planalp said. “It was able to let us pull people from a wider range than just Upland so we can survive. I feel like we’ve actually thrived.”
Since the store’s rebrand, Planalp’s business has nearly doubled. This growth has allowed Walnut Creek to better meet the needs of its customers.
Because meeting the needs of customers is so important, Walnut Creek is working on an upcoming addition.
For those who are unable to or do not have time to cook, the grocery store is in the process of adding refrigerator cases that will hold more perishable and grab-and-go items.
“As I try to add to the selection there, I think there will be a lot more items that are student-friendly,” Planalp said.
Planalp believes that Taylor and the Upland community are unified in a lot of ways and he wants to do everything he can to support students and discover ways to satisfy them.
In turn, he hopes that students will support Walnut Creek the best they can.
“I’m not sure that we would be in a position to be redoing this without Taylor,” Planalp said. “So we’re all in this together.”
That sense of community would also not be possible without the help of Walnut Creek’s employees.
Brandon Fleener is an employee at Walnut Creek. Just like Planalp, he appreciates the small-town atmosphere and community unification that the store provides.
“I enjoy the people here and I appreciate that it’s a tight-knit community and a family-run business,” Fleener said. “We really take pride in what we do here.”
That sense of pride in the business is something that Planalp also feels strongly about.
Planalp finds the everyday challenge of running a grocery store rewarding. His biggest competitors are some of the largest companies in the world like Walmart and Kroger. This might seem daunting to some, but to Planalp, the challenge is motivating.
He is delighted to have found a little spot where his business can fit in and compete against these larger companies.
It is important to him that Walnut Creek remains operating because the concept of small-town grocery stores is somewhat dying.
“It’s all about the passion for the business,” Planalp said.
Through running Walnut Creek Country Market, he hopes to keep the small-town grocery store concept alive, while serving the Upland community, surrounding communities and town tourists.
Planalp’s passion and love for this little grocery store could not be any stronger.
“I want there to be a store there for as long as it can be there,” Planalp said.