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Pryde’s Offers Kitchenware Shoppers Old-Time Customer Service

By Robin Mather

Tucked into a tree-filled neighborhood called Old Westport in Kansas City, Kansas, Pryde’s Kitchen & Necessities is a wonderland for the curious cook.

IMG_6130Its fans say things like, “The store is clean and the displays are beautiful and never messy, and you can tell the employees love working there,” and “So much stuff, it almost feels like a hoarder’s paradise.” Owner Louise Meyers says tour buses visit the store, filled with tourists who have come from far away to the store they know as a mecca for the kitchen-obsessed. “Forty percent of our customers come from out of town,” she says. “They say, ‘It isn’t Christmas until you’ve been to Pryde’s.’ “

IMG_6491-3ffMeyers is the daughter of John and Connie Perucca, who decided, in a conversation at their kitchen table, to open their own store in 1968. The Peruccas had a thousand dollars – and four kids, which made the venture a little risky, she says.

Still, they opened a shop and ran it for four years before moving the business to its current location at 115 Westport Road. Regulars recognize the store’s signature green-striped awnings and the huge whisk that serves as a handle on Pryde’s narrow green door. Its cheery red-and-white checked logo of a rooster decorates the sign and its shopping bags.

IMG_6260Now the store is three stories – “if you include the attic,” Meyers says – and 10,000 square feet of culinary wonderland. The building housing Pryde’s is “an iconic Kansas City treasure,” Meyers says, and has been written about in Architectural Digest magazine –which called Pryde’s “a hardware store for cooks.” The store has also been featured in Southern Living, among other magazines both national and local.

“It was built in 1922, and was the home for the Helen Thomes School of Dance,” she says. “It was a burgeoning community at that time, and Westport has always been a melting pot. Wagon trains heading west stopped here in Westport.”

Showing off a photo of the dance instructor whom she calls “Miss Thomes,” Meyers says “80-year-old women who studied with Miss Thomes still come in to say that the building’s satisfyingly creaky original wood floors remind them of their childhood dance classes.” The stairway to the second floor also houses photos of some of those dancers in their heyday, and Meyers sounds almost as if she’s talking about one of her own children (she has six) when she says, “That one went off to the New York Ballet, and she used to come back to Kansas City just to visit Miss Thomes.”

Meyers’ ability to retain and retell such facts serves her well in the business.

“This is the only job I’ve ever had, and I can’t imagine a better one,” she says. Every day is different, with a fresh challenge.” Meyers began working in the store when she was eight years old, sweeping floors. She worked with her father for 27 years before she eventually bought the business from him, although she considered other careers, including communications and the idea of becoming a labor and delivery nurse, before she made the decision. When she bought the store in 2001, she tripled the inventory, she says.

Thousands of Items

The store’s floors are jam-packed with gadgets, linens, pots and pans, specialty cookware, coffee and tea pots and accessories and more. Pryde’s offers the largest selection of Homer Laughlin Fiestaware in the Midwest, says Meyers, and she’s also obviously proud of the large selection of thick maple cutting boards made by a Missouri company called C & C Woodworks.

IMG_6357One whole room is devoted to shelf after shelf of cake plates and baking supplies, including everything from rolling pins to cake pop pans. Pryde’s also is known for its large offering of the highly prized Mosser Glass items, including jadeite and colored milk glass serveware. The store, while crammed with merchandise – it even hangs from the ceilings – is carefully curated and artfully arranged, and staff can lead you quickly and easily to glassware, or mugs, or dessert plate sets, or whatever it is that your heart desires.

Pryde’s doesn’t offer classes, but does occasionally do demonstrations and book signings, she says.

The Value of Brick and Mortar

Pryde’s does a large wedding registry business, Meyers says, and an employee will accompany the couple around the store as they make their selections. “Wedding and gift registries bring younger people into the store, and that gives us a chance to form a relationship with them,” she says.

But sometimes that kind of backfires. She remembers a customer who came in with her fiancé and asked a lot of questions about some of those Mosser Glass cake plates. Meyers patiently answered her questions until the woman finally said, abruptly, “I can probably get it cheaper on Amazon.”

“You need to write something about that,” she says, the heat of the memory reddening her cheeks. “People really need to support their local stores.” If customers don’t support local businesses, they’ll eventually end up with only chain stores to choose from.”

Small local businesses also can’t do as much for online customers as the big Internet retailers. “It’s impossible for a single brick and mortar store to have a multimillionaire website,” she says.

Buying decisions are about more than price, she says. They’re also about service, and about ties within their community. Some of her vendors have been working with Pryde’s for more than 40 years, she says. “Life, for me, is about relationships with people and what those mean.”

The new cook who shops at Pryde’s will get the same reassuring assistance, and guidance to the best-quality item she’s looking for, as the long-time customer who is a confident cook and needs an unusual item. Both will return again and again to Pryde’s for its high-quality merchandise, but also, one suspects, for the congenial sales staff, and maybe the complimentary tea or coffee offered to shoppers while they prowl the store.

IMG_6274As we’re seated in her “office” – on the steps leading up to the Annex, where sale items are – a slender bearded chef comes up to us. “Hi, Louise,” he says. “I’m looking for a particular kind of mold, and wondered if you had it.” Before he’s finished describing it, Meyers rises immediately and shows him what she has in stock, which happens to be silicone versions of the molds. “Yeah, I tried those, but they’re not working for me,” the chef says.

“Let me special order them for you,” she says. “They’ll be here within a couple of days.”

The chef says he’ll think about it, and wanders off.

“He won’t find those anywhere else,” she says. “A lot of chefs and bartenders buy from us, because we have – or can get –stuff they need but can’t find.”

Doing it the Old-Fashioned Way

Amazingly, Pryde’s is not computerized in any way. Staff people still hand-write receipts, and Meyers says she carries the inventory of hundreds of thousands of items in her head. She works on the floor of the store every day, and tracks inventory that way, she says.

“I didn’t want to get into a situation where I was spending all my time at a desk, staring at a computer,” she says. “And oddly enough, this works fine for me.”

With sales of about $1.8 million annually, Pryde’s seems to be doing just fine with Meyers’ idiosyncratic system.

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