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People who make a difference: Charlie Harvey

Business owner, volunteer, community member – The Red Barn, Lions Club, Shawano County Fair

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November 16, 2022

HFCmhTc0Yn0SHAWANO – Though Charlie Harvey is a business owner, he said that is not what he wants to be most known for.

“I’d rather be known for my volunteer work and giving back to the community,” he said. “The only way to gain is to give.”

It’s a family affair at Charlie’s County Market in Shawano (521 S. Main St.), with Charlie’s children – daughter Kelly Sufka and son Peter Harvey – working by his side.

Charlie has owned the store located at 521 S. Main St. since 2011, though the 73-year-old grocer said he has been in the industry much longer.

And even though it wasn’t what he had planned to do after graduating from high school, it’s a path he said he’s thankful he followed.

“After I graduated from high school, I went to the (Langlade County Normal School/Teachers College) in Antigo for a year and a half,” he said. “I was good at math and sports, but I wasn’t a good teacher. I expected people to know the same things I did, but it doesn’t work that way.”

Charlie said he worked at a machine shop in Clintonville for a few years – using the math skills he learned along the way.
From there, he moved into the grocery business.

“I started working with my wife’s grandfather in 1970 in Tigerton at the Red Owl,” he said. “Throughout the years, we had a Red Owl in Clintonville, the country store in Shawano and then the Pick ‘N Save – four stores at one point.”

Charlie said something he’s learned along the way is that winning is important in business.

“You have to know what the competition is doing,” he said. “It’s like a sport, (and) it’s how you take care of customers.”

Kelly said one of the things Charlie’s County Market also prides itself on is creating a working and shopping environment for everyone – that includes getting to know customers, treating everyone how they would like to be treated, helping load groceries and providing job opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
Community service
Charlie said he thinks the community involvement he and his family do is one of the things that separates his store from others.

“I think it drives our business,” he said. “The more effort you put into the community, the more it comes back to you.”

Over the years, Charlie said he and his family have been involved in several community fundraisers – too many to name, he said.

From donating to the park in Shawano to helping organizations raise funds through The Red Barn, Charlie said giving back has always been and always will be an important aspect of what Charlie’s County Market does.

Charlie Harvey, right, and his daughter Kelly Sufka, along with Charlie’s son, Peter Harvey, run Charlie’s County Market in Shawano. Chris Rugowski Photo

“I don’t expect the community to take care of Charlie, if I don’t take care of the community,” he said. “I also love going to the fair and seeing the kids with their animals.”

Kelly, who has also volunteered with the Boys and Girls Club and Safe Haven, said her dad’s community involvement is “way more than he’ll admit to.”

“It’s not always about being a part of a group,” she said. “He’s on a couple of different boards and still does lots of work with the Lions Club in Tigerton where he grew up before moving here. One time, he ran into the band director from Shawano, and he mentioned how some kids needed instruments, so Charlie ended up buying instruments for the kids who needed them. My dad likes to golf, so he’s also donated many golf clubs so kids can have the right equipment.”

The Red Barn
Another community project the Harveys are known for is The Red Barn – a concession stand of sorts on the outside of the store where organizations sell brats, burgers and more to raise money for their respective group.

Opening in early April and running through late September, Kelly said The Red Barn has become a very popular stop for many in the community.

“We have two groups a week, so each group gets three days,” she said. “We stock (the Red Barn) with brats and burgers, so groups just have to come in and do the work. We’ve got the VFW, the hockey team and others. It’s gotten so popular we now do a lottery in February.”

The next generation
Kelly said she got involved in the grocery industry just before her dad opened the store in Shawano.

“Before that, I spent 15 years working in minor league baseball,” she said. “It was working in customer service, so the grocery business is the same in that regard.”

Charlie said though he’s in good health and still having fun, he knows he won’t be a business owner forever.

Kelly Sufka has been working at Charlie’s Country Market in Shawano since 2011. Sufka and her dad, Charlie Harvey, also volunteer in the community. Chris Rugowski Photo

“That’s a good question,” he said in response to what a potential secession plan looks like. “We’ll have to sit down as a family and see how we’re going to handle that. I wish I could give a better answer, but that depends on what the kids want to do and if they want the commitment to run it. I get homesick (from the store) when I’m gone for two weeks. Maybe I’ll sit on the Packers’ sideline in my free time and tell them what to do.”

Kelly said the grocery business is still a “very good business to be in.”

“I feel bad for the many people who were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the grocery business thrived because of that,” she said. “At the beginning (of the pandemic), it was crazy. We got lucky because we had signed on with a secondary supplier right before COVID hit. We were better stocked than most because we had two warehouses to pull from – we still do. Business has not dropped off as much as we expected it to.”

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