When the Starn family owned its empire of South Jersey supermarkets, the saying was that there was a Starn in every store.
And there were plenty of Starns to go around — and plenty of Starn’s ShopRite stores for them to run by the end of their run in the business. Charles and Sophie Starn had 15 children, nine boys and six girls. The eighth was Harry Starn Sr., who lived in Ocean City and died last month at 84.
“At one time or another, everyone worked in the business,” says Bob Starn, 77, of Galloway Township, the 12th child. “But we wound up with six of the brothers running it from the 1970s on,” including Bob and Harry.
The family sold its ShopRites in 1986. By then, they had four stores — Absecon, Somers Point, Ventnor and Middle Township — and a fifth started in Egg Harbor Township.
They were busy stores — enough to keep 1,200 people working, half of them full time, Bob says. Those stores also kept the owners busy.
“We all did everything at one time or another,” Bob says.
For Harry Sr., that could include taking a break from management duties to unload a truck full of produce or plants or milk.
“He was very humble. Nothing was beneath Harry,” says Geoffrey MacIntyre, of Ocean City, who was in high school when he was hired part time by Harry Sr. MacIntyre stayed at the job 38 years.
He remembers that when Harry Sr. unloaded a truck, he did it in dress pants, shoes, shirt and tie. But when he went fishing or had a cookout on his deck, Harry wore his dress pants, shoes and shirt — minus the tie.
“I never saw him in anything but that,” the long-time worker says.
He and other employees were crushed when the family sold the stores, because the Starns were known as good bosses.
“(Harry Sr.) once told me that the hardest thing he ever had to do was to fire somebody who worked for him for years — that broke his heart,” MacIntyre says.
After the sale, one Starn who stayed was Harry Sr.’s wife, Nancy — she worked in the stores as she raised two sons. She left two years after local ShopRites lost the Starn’s name, and could never face going back. But Harry Sr. kept shopping at his old stores. He retired after the sale, and loved to kayak and fish on Ocean City’s bay, Nancy says.
Harry Starn Jr. worked in the business as a boy, and then again after college at West Point and five years as an Army officer. He’s 59 now, and lives and teaches college in California. He says his father truly believed in the importance of family — but not just his own.
“He respected everyone in the store. He knew who they were, and who their families were,” the son says.”He used to tell me, ‘They have families to feed. And we need to run good stores so they can do it.’”
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