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Store owner likes Manteca’s small town feel

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Mike Morowit is ready to toast yet another year in business.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED December 20, 2012 12:55 a.m.

Mike Morowit didn’t even know where Manteca was when the opportunity to buy Miner Mart first presented itself.

All the Hayward native knew was that it was home to Northern California’s world famous waterslide park and a world away from the UC Berkeley campus that he prowled to earn a degree in sociology.

But he learned – much like the way he learned the business from his father in a rough-and-tumble area of the Bay Area community – and quickly became a fan of the family-oriented atmosphere and the friendly people that would frequent his establishment.

And he has definitely made up for his initial lack of geographical knowledge in the 18 years he’s owned the business.

As a part of the Measure M public safety oversight committee, Morowit so impressed the bigwigs at City Hall that he was asked to apply for the Manteca Planning Commission and is now in his second four-year term.

His store regularly supplies non-profits and local groups with all of the beverage goodies that they need for their events. All one has to do to see how dedicated he is to his job and his customers is stand and watch his interaction with the after work crowd as they file in for everything from wine to whiskey.

The Bulletin caught up with Morowit to find out what life is like behind the counter:

Was there a learning curve when you first took over the business from Bob Miner?

“This was a nice community and I was used to a rougher area – my dad’s store was in a part of Hayward that drew a different crowd. But it took a lot of hours – it still takes a lot of hours. It’s a seven-day-a-week job. I work six days and come in on my day off and these are tough times. There’s a lot of competition out there from places like Costco and you have to do what you can do to stay competitive, and those are all things that you learn as you go.”

What do you enjoy the most about what you do?

“The people. The variety. I’ve got so many friends and people that I know socially. Without customers there is no Miner Mart, and I love talking to people when they come in because we need our customers. We have a good staff and they all live here in the community and I think that goes a long way.”

What are the biggest challenges that you face as a small business owner?

“Staying competitive in order to keep volume. You’ve got to keep an eye on surrounding businesses and what they’re doing and you have to make sure that you have that customer service aspect. I’ve been lucky to be able to provide for service organizations and non-profits and that has really helped keep the doors open and pay bills at times. It’s not so much the wages but the insurance requirements and the need to stay in compliance. I give $100 to any of our workers that don’t sell to an underage decoy because we want to stay very legal – we don’t want to develop a reputation and fortunately we’ve been able to stay on top of that.”

If you were blindfolded and somebody put a can of Coke and a can of Pepsi in front of you, could you tell the difference?

“If they were diet I could. I prefer Diet Pepsi and I could definitely tell that.”

How did you end up on the Planning Commission and what do you enjoy about it?

“I was on the public safety sales tax oversight committee – the Measure M committee – and I was asked if I’d be interested in applying. I’m now starting my second term, and what I like about it is that it’s completely different. I’m still developing an understanding of everything that goes into planning and I learn something new at every meeting. One of the reasons that I wanted to do it was for the business aspect. I think of myself as a pro-business person, and it deals specifically with that.”

What is something very few people know about Mike?

“That I do get tired (laughs). I’m really family minded and I spend a lot of time with my girls. I’m a pretty open person. There aren’t a whole lot of secrets.”

If you had a night at the movies, what type of movie would you see and why?

“I like a good drama – something like The Shawshank Redemption or The Green Mile. But I like watching good movies at home too. I work six days a week so I don’t like a whole lot of action when I do have down time.”

Director Kevin Smith made a movie in the early 1990’s called “Clerks” that detailed the life and hijinks of a convenience store clerk and the people he came across. Do strange things happen at times?

“Yes. You get to know people and their lives and sometimes the wife will come in during the morning and not know that her husband comes in every afternoon. You hear about all of their problems – it’s not quite like a bar, but you get to know people. But there are serious things too. We get shoplifters and things can get a little bit edgy at times – you never really know what to expect or what’s going to happen. We’ll get people who come in drunk and we’ll refuse to sell to them and they might not take too kindly to that, and lately there have been a lot of homeless hanging around out front – more in the last three years than ever before. It all depends on the day I guess.”

When you’re not working what do you like to do?

“I like to go to dinner – sometimes to Modesto or Stockton – or to San Francisco for the day. But between visiting my daughter at Cal and my other daughter at high school we’re pretty busy people. There isn’t a whole lot of downtime – it’s usually somebody’s birthday or something is going on somewhere.”

What do you appreciate about being a business owner in Manteca?

“I like the small town feeling and the fact that you get to truly know your customers, the people standing in line at the bank and the people that you run into when you’re grocery shopping. It’s just a nice town overall.”

Outside of manning the counter, what goes into the job for you?

“I’m the bookkeeper, cashier, stocker and security. I write all of my own bills, do all of the scheduling and write the checks and on top of that I give my cell phone number out to customers who might need custom orders or things like that so it never stops ringing. There’s a lot.”

If you go out to eat at a Mexican food restaurant, what is your go-to plate?

“I’d probably say some good tamales. I love going to Taqueria Yvette with the kids – they always get burritos. I like to think that Rudy (Delgado) is the Hispanic version of me – you get to know his family and he’s got his people and he’s got good food. It’s that kind of customer service that sets places apart. You might be able to get by with a generic experience, but when times get tough, you’ll wish that you did go out of your way for your customers.”

How do you see the business climate in Manteca and the Central Valley?

“Soft. This county got hit hard by unemployment. I think the Bay Area is on its way back, but we’re just not there yet. My mom lives in Alameda and if you go to a restaurant there on a weeknight there’s a wait – there’s no parking downtown. It’s the same way in Berkeley on any day of the week. The economy just isn’t as strong as it needs to be yet. I think there’s a positive outlook, and on the Planning Commission we’re seeing some apartment and other projects coming up that are positive. But it will take some time.”

How far are you willing to go for your customers?

“If they want something we’ll order it. If they want a special size, we’ll order that. We want to do what we can to cater to them. We can’t take their money and say thanks and not mean it. You have to make an effort. I think that people appreciate it when they see my kids working here when they aren’t in school because they see where some of that money goes. You have to appreciate them and what they’re doing for you.”

Miner Mart is located at 1046 W. Yosemite Ave. and is open Sunday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to midnight. For more information call (209) 823-6930.

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