Johnnie Wiley, 73, co-founder of J&J Foods in Gainesville, Ga., died Thursday, Jan. 5, after being hospitalized since Christmas night following a heart attack.
Mason & Ward Funeral Home in Gainesville is in charge of arrangements.
A January 2007 story in The Shelby Report explains that the small chain has two stores in Gainesville and one in Dahlonega, Ga.
Wiley was a former postman, bread man and funeral home owner who was introduced to the grocery business early in life through an uncle, Henry Smith, who owned a small store in Gainesville.
Wiley and his brother-in-law, Junior Reece, became owners of a 3,000-s.f. grocery store and gas station just outside Gainesville called Holiday Supermarket and, in 1976, the opportunity arose for the brothers-in-law to leave the now-too-small Holiday Supermarket and buy a former Winn-Dixie store that became J&J—to use both men’s first initials.
After six months, the Reeces decided to get out, having lost all the money they felt they could on the venture, according to The Shelby Report.
Now on his own and with “everything on the line,” Wiley went against the natural instinct to raise prices in order to make more money, deciding instead to drop prices to help increase volume.
Since the store had fewer than 20 employees at the time, Johnnie and wife Arrie Mae worked long hours.
The company’s original policy of not being open on Sundays, and not selling alcoholic beverages, caused some to question the company’s chances for success but, to the Wileys, there was no question it was the right way to run their business. While the stores now are open on Sundays, they still do not sell alcohol.
“Everybody said we wouldn’t make it because we don’t sell alcohol…But we’re not going to compromise,” Arrie Mae said in the report.
In 1990, some changes became necessary at J&J when Wiley was diagnosed with cancer. Surgery and treatment led to a full recovery for Wiley, but it became clear that a plan was needed for the future of the company.
The time was right for the re-entry into the business of son Darrell Wiley, who had worked at Holiday Supermarket while in high school and college.
For Johnnie Wiley, serving the community was just part of life and the same holds true for Darrell—current president of J&J Foods and the former president of the Georgia Food Industry Association—who believes that J&J’s customers have a right to know the various ways the company supports the community.
He told his father in the 2007 report, “You don’t have to go out and brag by any means, but don’t be afraid to let people know.”