Anyone who’s shopped at the Tom Thumb on Mockingbird and Abrams over the past two decades knows that service operations manager Carrie Johnson is as much a staple as the eggs, meat and cheese.
Just a few minutes after Johnson walks into the store, a customer slides beside her for a hug, and the women launch into a conversation about their kids. A short while later, a man waves at her. She smiles and responds with a friendly, “Hey baby,” as he walks out with his grocery bags.
It seems like every customer in the supermarket knows Johnson. If they don’t know her personally, they’ve probably seen her around the store, where she’s worked for 27 years. Although she’s been offered higher positions in different locations, she’s always turned them down. The relationships she’s made with customers keep her anchored to the Lakewood store.
“It’s no big, glamorous job. It’s got no bells and whistles,” Johnson says. “But my mom told me, regardless of how much you make, if you have something you enjoy, that peace of mind is worth more than any money. That’s what I have. I have truly enjoyed coming to work.”
Each morning when Johnson arrives, she hopes to brighten customers’ day and ensure they have the best possible experience while shopping at Tom Thumb. Johnson says that looks like directing them to a product, offering a smile or doing a small favor for shoppers.
“My customers are like my second family,” she says. “It’s become my second home.”
Leaving the location will be tough when Johnson retires in December to spend more time with her grandchildren. But the 65-year-old plans to continue working in the retail food industry at her own grocery shopping business called Mrs. Johnson, Your Personal Shopper. With 20 clients from the Lakewood area, Johnson hopes to continue working in the industry she entered at 14.
Johnson started her career as a courtesy clerk at the Piggly Wiggly in her hometown of Waco. She then took the same position at Albertsons and earned her chops as a checker at the competitor Safeway, Tom Thumb’s parent company. The two grocery chains merged in 2015, but back then, she had to keep quiet about her work for the two rival companies.
At 19, Johnson was hired to work in the video department at Tom Thumb, where she stayed for 45 years. Baggers and checkers have come and gone, but Johnson has remained a constant. In an era when employees stay at their current job only five years on average, what kept Johnson at Tom Thumb for decades?
Johnson was a single mother of four when her oldest son was shot in the head during a random accident in 1992. Emergency responders assumed he had health insurance and took him to a VIP floor at Parkland Hospital. When staff found out he had aged out of Johnson’s plan, they wanted to move him to a floor for the uninsured.
She called her store director, who called Jack Evans, the former mayor of Dallas and CEO of Tom Thumb. Her son remained on the VIP floor for two more months, racking up more that $150,000 in hospital bills. To this day, Johnson has never seen a bill.
“You know why? Jack Evans paid for the whole thing,” she says. “I was no different than any other checker. But that’s the kind of people who ran our company. That’s part of my love for Tom Thumb.”
Her son was left legally blind, but he’s able to live and work independently at the Commission for the Blind in Tyler. He and his wife have three of Johnson’s five grandchildren. Had she known being a grandma would be this great, Johnson says she would have skipped having her own children.
To be fair, raising four kids as a young, single mom isn’t easy, especially without a car. Johnson remembers holding hands with her children in a chain as they ran to catch a bus. When it became clear they were going to miss it, she turned to them and said, “Things are going to get better.” She determined that if nothing else got paid, she was going to buy a vehicle.
The utility service turned off the lights, but she told the kids they were going to camp in the living room. She borrows some flashlights from her mom and built a tent with sheets and a bedspread. When the water got shut off, they marched to the store and bought gallons of water for splash baths.
“What blows my mind is that I was able to pull it off, and they were none the wiser,” she says. “Up until I told them the true story, they thought we were just having fun.”
Over the years, Johnson has raised several nieces and nephews and seen countless other children grow up in Tom Thumb. The now-grown students see her when they’re home from college and reminisce about their experiences in the store. In April, Johnson saw one particularly naughty child who would never stop fussing until, unbeknownst to his parents, the manager would shoot him a no-nonsense look. The family burst into laughter when all was reveled during a shopping trip at Tom Thumb.
“I love people, and my favorite part of the job is just my customers“
“I love people, and my favorite part of the job is just my customers,” Johnson says. ” I used to tell myself if I could change one person’s day for the better, then I could go home and have a good night’s sleep. I’m able to come in here and feel like I made a difference.”
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