(Sentinel photo by Don McDowell)
James Grunder, with his inviting smile, easy-going manner, and folksy approach, has a face you'll remember. That's a very good thing when you make your living as a Wal-Mart greeter.
"I retired as a truck driver at the end of 2002," Grunder says. "I laid around the house for over a month, got bored with that real fast, and then headed over to Wal-Mart."
Since February, 2003, the affable Remsen resident has been a fan favorite for those who shop at the Le Mars' Wal-Mart SuperCenter. The outgoing and active sexagenarian, with his friendly smile, is a natural born greeter.
He is one of eight who are currently employed at the Le Mars location.
"I didn't want to do any more heavy lifting," Grunder explains. "I had enough of that when I was driving a semi. This seems like a real nice change of pace."
The hours turned out to be a real nice change of pace as well. With a 34-hour workweek, Grunder is considered full-time. "I get to be home more and I usually have a fairly regular schedule," he says. "That didn't happen when you're driving trucks."
"I work three 8-hour days and then two 5-hour days," Grunder mentions. "Every once in a while they'll throw me a curve ball. But that's doesn't happen very often."
In the past two and a half years, Grunder says he's seen his share of changes. Personnel and management come and go. And trends fade in, only to fade out again.
Grunder admits the Le Mars store has vastly increased its selection and quantity of merchandise. This has made things more hectic for him but he has always been the type who liked to be kept on his toes.
"The 'greeter' job has pretty much stayed the same," he observes. "The big difference is that we've gotten much busier."
"When I first started here, you could look right down the aisle, shoot a cannon, and not hit a soul," he recalls. "But nowadays there is so much stuff and so many people."
Increased business equals more people for Grunder to greet. According to assistant store manager Marcus Freund, approximately 3,000 to 4,000 patrons enter and exit the store on any given day.
That's a heckuva lot of 'hellos' and 'goodbyes' for someone like Grunder to give. But he says he doesn't mind. In fact, that's what makes the job so enjoyable.
"You really do meet an interesting assortment of people out here," Grunder says in a classic case of understatement.
From attempted shoplifters to argumentative spouses disagreeing over purchases, Grunder sees the world as it comes through those automatic doors.
People-watching aside, Grunder says the job does keep him hopping. "We've got carts to watch all the time so that really keeps us busy," he contends. He also carries a hand-held device that'll de-activate merchandise that scanners at the cashier lanes somehow miss.
"I went to the hospital the other day and one of the nurses said to me 'I know you but I can't place where.' Then it dawned on her. 'Wal-Mart! You're the guy from Wal-Mart!' I'm starting to get recognized. How 'bout that?" he says with a husky chuckle.
For now, Grunder has no plans to leave his trusty spot by the door. He'll continue to be the friendly face who greets your welcome and will wave as you depart. "I'll be here for as long as I can stand on my two feet. I'm not going anywhere," he smiles.