Local ‘grocery dork’ Ken Wiseman celebrates 30 years in the business


In his 30 years as a self-proclaimed “grocery dork,” Ken Wiseman has worked through a brain aneurysm, a store closure, three major floods and a global pandemic.

And at 58 years old, Wiseman said, “I’ll be doing this for a heck of a lot longer.”

Wiseman grew up in Lewis County and started his first grocery job in 1994 working night shift at Fuller’s Market Place in Chehalis.

“If you could get on with Fuller’s or get a clerk job like with Safeway, it was almost like getting a job with the state, in those days,” Wiseman said, adding that the grocer’s union provided a sense of job security and clear steps for upward mobility. “It was a really good-paying job in those days, and it still pays pretty well.”

Wiseman worked night shifts at Fuller’s until he suffered a brain aneurysm in 2002.

“I couldn’t really work nights anymore, and I was off for about three months,” Wiseman said, later adding, “Luckily, a combination of the medication and etcetera, I’m able to still have what most people would consider a normal life.”

After the aneurysm, Wiseman said his medical team advised him that if he still wanted to be able to work, he needed to have a job that he didn’t “have to take home” with him at the end of the workday.

“I’ve always had to kind of approach the work like that,” Wiseman said.

Fuller’s allowed Wiseman to move over to the day shift when he came back to work, and he became “kind of a jack of all (trades),” he said. “I did all that I could. I would do evening closeups. I would help with the dairy. I would help with the frozen, whatever was needed.”

When Fuller’s announced the closure of its Chehalis store in early 2007, Wiseman had been with the store for almost 13 years.

“I was fortunate because I had been there as long as I had been … (so) I was the last one laid off and the first one recalled,” Wiseman said.

After a week unemployed, he worked at Fuller’s Centralia location for about two weeks before he accepted a job at Safeway’s store in Chehalis, starting work there in late February 2007.

“There was all that big corporate stuff that was new and different to deal with, but the Chehalis store, just by the mix of people, has been far and away the best work family I could have ever imagined,” Wiseman said, later adding, “We have a lot of people say our store has a great vibe, and I’m proud to be part of that.”

On Dec. 3, 2007, toward the end of Wiseman’s first year at the Chehalis Safeway, a “pineapple express” weather system caused the Chehalis River to flood in what would later be known as one of the worst natural disasters the region has ever faced.

“As we learned during COVID, what are the two things that people freak out the most if they can’t get to? It’s food and medical attention,” he said. “Our store in Chehalis is really one of the only big food stores that both it doesn’t flood and the access doesn’t flood.”

Wiseman was one of the few store employees who were able to safely travel to and from the store during the 2007 flood, he said.

“I think I worked 12 straight days,” he said. “... We’d have lines of people at 10, 11 o’clock at night for a couple weeks. It was just wild.”

He had similar experiences during the 2009 and 2022 floods, he said.

“Working through the floods is really telling,” he said. 

COVID-19 changed many of the store’s health and safety procedures when restrictions went into effect in 2020, and also affected the flow of customers.

“Before COVID, if it was slow, it was just a little bit slow and we would try and try and do some stuff, fill candy, whatever. Now when it’s slow? Imagine you’re in a town where there’s a hurricane and part of it went through and the eye’s there. There’s nothing, and it’s calm. And you know you’re about to just get your ass kicked. That’s the way it feels when it's slow right now,” Wiseman said.

Despite all the changes the grocery industry has undergone in the last 30 years and the struggles Wiseman himself has been through, he’s maintained a good sense of humor and an excellent rapport with his coworkers and customers.

His work has earned him the title of “Best Grocery Checker” in Best of Lewis County voting multiple times since the category was introduced in 2018.

“A lot of it is just … being able to get people to smile, or if they’re not smiling, then being able to be somewhat positive but without being annoying,” Wiseman said.