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Retirement beckons longtime produce retail executive

by C. Baxter Carter | June 09, 2009
After a 47-year career, Don Basso said that he does not need any help planning his retirement.

Mr. Basso spent 41 years with A&P in Indiana and elsewhere, then another six with B&W Quality Growers, a Fellsmere, FL-based firm that specializes in watercress, before announcing his retirement recently.

"I've done a little traveling, I have a lot of plans in the future -- I haven't been gone that long," Mr. Basso said. "My golf game is not what it should be, so I'm taking lessons. I'm going to get out with a pro before I pick up my clubs again so I don't pick up my old habits. I just got a new boat, and my plans are to do a lot of boating and fishing. And I'll probably relocate to somewhere near Charleston, South Carolina -- we have our eyes set on some property there -- five, six years down the road. Every day is Saturday right now. It's a great feeling."

Born in Chicago, Mr. Basso moved to Indianapolis as a teenager and started working for A&P on March 1, 1962, at age 15.

"I was paid out of the Coke machine because I wasn't old enough to be working," he recalled. "I started mopping floors for the store at the corner of 30th and Georgetown Road in Indianapolis, not even a half-mile northwest of the fourth turn of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway."

Mr. Basso stayed at that store for 14-and-a-half years, eventually holding every position, including manager.

In 1975, he was promoted and shifted into A&P's general offices as a product merchandiser representing the chain's bakery line. After a few months, A&P asked him to move to produce, and he spent the next year on the road training and retraining A&P produce managers throughout the Indiana region. From there, Mr. Basso moved to Cincinnati as a field produce manager, then was promoted to district manager in Dayton, OH, then on to director of produce merchandising back in Indianapolis - all in the span of a couple of years.

In 1979, he was scheduled to move to Atlanta as director of produce merchandising for Family Mart, another grocery chain owned by A&P. A last- minute move of that division sent Mr. Basso instead to Clearwater, FL. It was a move that would prove pivotal to his future plans.

When A&P sold Family Mart three years later, Mr. Basso became director of procurement for the eastern field for the national produce division of A&P in Lakeland, FL, procuring all fresh produce and floral for A&P "with the exception of the West Coast - California and Washington state -- including Mexico and all other imports from 1987 to 2003," he said.

That year, A&P asked Mr. Basso to make yet another move, this time to New Jersey.

"It was time to say 'no.' A&P was very good to me, and I have nothing but fond memories and admiration for those people. But I decided I'd had a taste of Florida. I didn't think I could move again, especially back north," he said. After leaving A&P, Mr. Basso signed on with B&W as director of logistics, transportation and sales. Six years later, tired of a 180-mile commute, he decided he'd had enough.

"I have to say out of all of it, my favorite experience was as a retail store manager," Mr. Basso said. "The reason for that is basically dealing directly with the customer. I really enjoyed that, probably more so because A&P gave me the opportunity to work in one retail location for 14-and-a-half years. My customers actually grew with me.

"I had a lot of great times and travel in procurement with A&P. I met some wonderful people, and was able to get to some wonderful areas of this country as well as Europe and South America," he continued. "I did a lot of great things with A&P. B&W was a beautiful, great company to work for. If I was going to get into that end of the business, they would have been my first choice to go to work for because they are just great, great people."

Mr. Basso said that a half-century in the business taught him that "the produce industry, as a whole, is as strong as ever. Growing costs are skyrocketing and putting a lot of stress on growers and obstacles are mounting. But there's a great deal of potential for growth. The industry has proved that over the years.

"The industry has changed tremendously," Mr. Basso continued. "The only packaged items I can remember in my [A&P] produce department at that time were spinach and radishes. Just look at what's happened with the value- added vegetables, the clamshells, the ingenuity that has progressed and better produce that's being offered. And the variety of produce being offered to the consumer is just outstanding. I look at the supermarket today and a supermarket of yesterday, and it's mind-boggling."

After 47 years, retirement beckons mightily, but "you never say never," Mr. Basso said. "I've had quite a few offers already as far as consulting, getting back with some old friends. I don't think I will, but I will never say never because I love the business. And I love the retail business, the produce business as a whole. I had a wonderful career. I really did."