NEW PORT RICHEY — Henry Potter was a small-town grocer known for his friendly customer service — even toward the occasional shoplifter.
One time Mr. Potter realized a woman had sneaked some eggs into her pockets and was headed out the door. He reached out and gave her a big hug — just hard enough to crack those eggs. He never said a word.
"And there she was," granddaughter Robin Stevenson Barrus said, "with egg on her clothes."
Mr. Potter, who died Monday (April 7, 2008) at the age of 96, was the first chairman of the board of West Pasco Hospital, which later became North Bay. He was a fire chief, a Mason, a chamber of commerce director, a citizen of the year and the 1975 King Pithla.
But he was best known for that grocery store, Potter Bros. IGA Foodliner in downtown New Port Richey, which he and his brother, Frank, ran for nearly 40 years.
Henry Potter oversaw the meat department and ran the front of the store. Frank Potter, who died several years ago, oversaw the produce and the back of the store.
Henry Potter had a second-floor office over an area where the store kept hot coffee, where shoppers would stop and chat with each other. The grocer's descent from his office was always evident by a jingling noise.
"He always had a big old ring of keys on his belt," grandson Richard Stevenson said.
The brothers started their store in the 1930s in another location on Grand Boulevard. Mr. Potter had come to the city, his family says, as a traveling butcher, who worked for cattle auction houses and grocery stores. He eventually realized he could make a better living as a grocer.
"He was quite a self-made man," granddaughter Joanie Anderson said.
As the city grew, so did Potter Bros. The brothers eventually joined the IGA marketing and selling organization. In 1952, they moved to a location on Main Street, where Cameo Antique Mall is now located.
The New Port Richey Press reported that the store, then the largest food store in west Pasco, was "modernly arranged and equipped, and alongside the premises is a large parking lot to make easier shopping for those who come in cars."
The Potter Bros. ran a full-page newspaper ad in honor of its grand reopening. Among their advertised items: 3-pound cans of Crisco for 79 cents; chuck roast for 59 cents per pound and two heads of iceberg lettuce for 19 cents.
The brothers sold the store in the 1970s. Not too many years after that, the store shut down. Mr. Potter, with some reluctance, began shopping at Publix.
His family also recalled his work with numerous charities, and in 1965, he was instrumental in starting West Pasco Hospital. Establishing a public hospital was not easy.
"It was so difficult back then to get it built," Mr. Potter told the Pasco Times in 1995. "It was a real struggle, but we really needed this hospital. It was worth it."
He is survived by his wife, Edith; three children; three grandchildren; four great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.