If it’s good for the community, then it’s bound to be good for Beth Keating and Midtown Market. “Good for the community,” might well be her motto.
An unnamed employee, who has worked for Midtown Market for many years, describes Beth as “a young entrepreneur who believes in the community. She took a chance and it’s working out. Beth ranks as one of fairest, most honest employers you could ever work for.”
Beth Keating spent 17 years as a hair stylist, first working at a shop in the old State Theater building. She stopped working when daughter Tina was born. Mrs. Keating picked up the trade - two months later - working out of Sunrise Beauty Salon in her home until 1992.
Husband Tom had been putting in an underground sprinkler system for Bruce Painter at the time and asked him, “Are you ready to sell your store?”
Bruce said, “I might be about ready.” He must have been because Tom came home and told Beth, “I’m going to buy you a grocery store.”
“No, you’re not.”
“You’ll do well.” And, she has.
So, the Keatings bought Painter’s Food Market and started to renovate and restore it adding variety to the grocery shelves. “The first five years were hard - very hard, financially - making payments and keeping up with two kids, Tina and Kent, in school. We were strapped. Tom and I had to borrow everything. But, it was fun.”
Midtown Market moved to its present highway location in September 2002 purchasing Two Js Market from AJ and Julie Lorenzen. After moving in, the Keatings reset the whole store beginning in December. The following winter, they started replacing all the compressors, freezers, and refrigerators. No small investment.
From the very first, Beth was involved in making changes to the stores and buildings which she had “inherited.” Adding walk-in coolers and freezers, and then larger ones. “We just outgrew them.”
Then about the time Two Js came up for sale, they had decided, “We need a bigger place.” The Keatings picked up most of the Two Js employees and brought most of their own from the previous location.
Midtown Market is still growing and changing. Maybe in smaller increments, at the present.
How does Beth compare her two occupations? Both hair styling and the grocery business “are challenging. You have to please the customer.” She missed her hair customers for a long time. Probably still does. But, she has so many more customers now at the Midtown Market.
Her new location and the lone town market can incorporate it all. “We run departments now and have managers for each. Bigger volume of customers makes for more work, but allows us to sell a wider variety of goods. We have fresher produce and better rotation of products. It seems to help everybody.”
Keating is so thankful to have Frank Cardwell as meat department manager. The months when she did extra duty cutting meat were tough. “That was hell.”
The new store has more space, but it fills up. Brandi Murray, cashier, adds, “Which you are doing a darn good job of.”
Beth is happy to report that, “I’ve always bought in town. Now, I would not be where I am today if it were not for the local traffic. Tourists and hunters help a lot, but our town customers are most important to us.”
Beth Keating surely is appreciative of her customers, but has others to thank for her success. “Associated Foods/Western Family were wonderful for us.”
A major source of help and strength to her in developing and sustaining her business was Jerry Miller. “When I needed help, I went to talk to Jerry. He is so sensible.”
Tom Keating works at his “day job” for the State Highway Department. Without his check, Beth freely admits, their grocery business would not have survived and now thrived. “He is the Cardboard Man and the Maintenance Man. Tom bails cardboard, every day. He is my moral support. Tom likes to come in and talk to customers.”
Tom is not the only one who likes to customers. The staff of Midtown Market make for “the friendliest place in town.” A real credit to the Keatings and to Harlowton.
Life is not all groceries, though it may often seem that way. Beth is hinting about writing a book. We are waiting. In the meantime, she might tell you about the time the furnace “blew up” in the old building.
The Keatings travel when they can, these days. Beth rides out at the family’s 9-Bar-F Ranch, giving brother Russ a hand when needed. Beth grew up on the ranch near Martinsdale. “I had the best life ever.”
She is devoted to the Harlowton Rodeo and to the new arena. “I’ve just worked on it for a long time since just after Doc Holloway died. It’s good for the community.” That old, but happy refrain.
Beth has found time over the years to be president of the Chamber of Commerce and to be the first female president of Harlowton Kiwanis.
What’s ahead for Midtown Market? Enclosing the westside entrance to keep the wind from blowing in. Maybe a deli in the future. The holidays are coming up soon. So, Beth & Tom’s Batter will be appearing, along with fruit, shrimp and crab cocktails, meat and cheese trays, and lots of prime rib. As always, there will be lots of good cheer at the friendliest place in town.