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Harps Food Stores Inc.

Harps Food Stores Inc. is a regional chain of employee-owned grocery stores based in Springdale (Washington and Benton counties). The corporation has grown to eighty stores in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri since its founding in 1930.

Founder Harvard Harp had spent years picking produce in California before returning home to Arkansas. In 1930, during the Great Depression, he took his $500 life savings (approximately $7,100 in 2015 dollars) and with his wife, Floy, opened Harps (or Harp’s) Cash Grocery in Springdale. The store slowly became popular in the community. The store was a family business. All four of Harvard and Floy Harp’s children (Donald, Reland, Gerald, and Judy Harp) worked at the store as they grew up.

After Donald Harp’s tour of duty in the U.S. Army ended in 1953, he returned to work for the store. After receiving a degree in business and economics from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), he envisioned an even more successful business. He formed a business partnership with his father, eventually transforming the family’s lone cash grocery into a regional chain of supermarkets.

Harps Cash Grocery was re-opened as Food Palace in 1954 and then re-branded as Harps IGA in 1956, becoming a member of the Independent Grocers Alliance (IGA), a nationwide association of smaller grocers. A second location opened in the northern part of Springdale in 1964. That year, Donald Harp brought in brothers Reland and Gerald as partners.

Harvard Harp died in 1968, and Donald Harp became president of the thriving grocery chain. The store opened a new location in Springdale in 1974. One of its earliest major acquisitions was the purchase of seven existing stores in northwestern Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma in 1989. As the years progressed, Harps opened new stores across northwestern Arkansas, as well as buying small stores and small chains, gradually expanding a few stores at a time. Within a few years, it was one of the largest chains in the region. In the mid-1980s, Reland Harp and Judy Harp died in separate traffic accidents.

After Donald Harp’s retirement in 1994, Gerald Harp took over the company. After completing the acquisition of a chain of ten grocery stores in 1995, the Harp family at this point began the process of moving the chain from a family-owned business into a completely employee-owned corporation. Over the next several years, the company steadily bought stock from the family and other investors, completing the process in 2001, just after the retirement of Gerald Harp.

Under Roger Collins, who became the chairman and chief executive officer of the corporation in 2000, and Kim Eskew, the corporate president who started as a cashier with Harps while in college in 1977, the company grew steadily. By 2011, annual sales had passed $550 million.

At the beginning of 2016, the chain had eighty stores across Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas, with fifty-nine locations in Arkansas, mostly across the northern part of the state. With more than 4,200 employees, Harps is the largest employee-owned company based in Arkansas and the largest grocery store chain based in the state. According to the National Center for Employee Ownership, by 2015, the chain was the sixth-largest employee-owned grocery corporation in the United States.

For additional information:
Bridges, Ken. “Harp’s Is Largest Employee-Owned Company in State.” Jonesboro Sun, October 4, 2015, pp. 2C–3C.

Harps Foods. http://www.harpsfood.com/ (accessed March 10, 2016).

“Harps Food Stores Inc.” Arkansas Business Company Profile. http://www.arkansasbusiness.com/research/company-profiles/84/harps-food-stores-inc (accessed March 10, 2016).

Swanson, Christie. “85 Years on, Harps Still Finding Room to Grow.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 20, 2015, pp. 1G–2G.

Kenneth Bridges
South Arkansas Community College

Last Updated 3/24/2016

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