When Susan Rigby and her husband were opening their second business together, she gave him special instructions to make the floors creak. This isn’t something she would have asked for in her last job, but then again running Opa Robby’s Market isn’t anything like her last job.
What started as a quick lube shop in 1988 that Robby Rigby helped his father build from the ground up, is now a place where Athens’ residents come to get their local produce. The small neon green facility feels less like a place to buy groceries and more like your grandmother’s house on a holiday.
“For the first 30 years of my life I did this: growing my own vegetables, canning my own vegetables, freezing and cooking. So it’s really getting back to my initial way of life,” said Susan Rigby who co-owns Opa Robby’s Market with her husband.
Virtually everything inside Opa Robby’s has a price tag and is the result of a lot of time and effort put in by the Rigbys. On a slow day, the only noises are the low hum of the coolers and workers’ footsteps on the squeaky floors that Susan so desperately wanted for a dated atmosphere. In the corner sits a small play area complete with checkers, some old toy cars and a game of Uno from 1978.
The unfinished wood tables are adorned with hand-painted chalkboard signs advertising all types of fresh and local produce for prices that, often, are much lower than alternative shopping establishments.
Susan hasn’t been doing this her entire life, however. Before Opa Robby’s was established 18 months ago, she had a corporate job managing nearly 1,000 people, a life she isn’t eager to repeat. She is more than content being a small business owner. “I enjoy this. I love everything about it. I can barely sleep for ideas of coming up with things to do and things to cook,” said Susan.
Her husband, Robby Rigby agrees. “Pinterest is my worst enemy,” he said. Susan uses social media to constantly generate new ideas on how to improve the market and relies on her husband’s building knowledge, while she takes care of things centered around farming and crafting.
“She’s the creative side of the business while I just work on the ‘honey-do’ list,” he said.
With an estimated customer base of around 900 people in less than two years, it seems like the duo is doing something right.
Susan and Robby Rigby work in the market on the weekends during their busiest time so that they can greet customers face-to-face. “We’re starting to become friends,” said Susan referring to the customers who shop there.
When they aren’t in the shop, Susan is still hard at work making an Irish Whiskey Soda Bread for St. Patrick’s Day festivities or a lavender salt scrub for the next relative with a birthday.
“I’ve never met someone so project oriented in my life,” said Rosie Pope, a worker at Opa Robby’s, “I just don’t know how she does it.”
While Susan makes it clear that she wouldn’t want to do anything else, the fruition of Opa Robby’s Market didn’t come without hard work.
“I don’t know why we overlooked this spot because it was sitting empty for two years so it worked out great. We took something that was already here and turned it into something that services a need for the community as well,” said Susan recalling when they first began renovating the old lube shop that Robby’s father had opened in his retirement.
The renovations only took about one month, since her husband was able to do much of the work without having to contract any of it out. “We opened in the winter to help us have time when we knew we wouldn’t really be busy so we could learn the business,” said Susan.
In the beginning everything was very basic. The couple had to learn the tricks of the trade like who to buy from.
Today, roughly 75 percent of the summer produce is from local farmers, but in the winter months the produce typically comes from the Atlanta farmers market. The couple makes it their goal to offer Georgia grown produce first and then regional foods if they have to. All of the meats, eggs, milk, bread and canned food comes from a 25 mile radius of Athens and have been especially popular lately.
As of now, Opa Robby’s Market has 50 suppliers, but they use many of the same vendors as the local farmers markets in Athens, so setting themselves apart wasn’t easy. “We’ve doubled sales in a year…but still one of our greatest challenges is just getting people to know we’re here,” said Susan.
Another challenge for the couple is getting people to understand how the market works. “Some people don’t realize that we have it but when it’s gone, it’s gone,” said Robby Rigby.
But once customers begin shopping at Opa Robby’s Market, Susan is always making something new to try to keep them coming back. “Susan is a crafty lady,” said employee Bonnie Bartles, “it is like Pinterest has come to life in here. Robby gets mad at me because I am always sending her things to do.”
Opa Robby’s, which translates to grandfather Robby’s in German, is the product of Susan Rigby’s desire to take what she knows and does best and share it with the Athens community. Susan, along with husband Robby Rigby, want it to be more than just a place to buy vegetables, they want it to become like home.
“When people come in, they want to talk,” said Robby Rigby, “and we love that.”