November 25, 2009
By Ben Schultz

Ray's Market Reopens Just in Time for Fall Deer Hunt

A long-time business is back, bigger and better than ever. Ray's Market has risen from the ashes to offer more food, a larger retail space and even room to expand. Nestled behind Sleep Inn on Elderberry Road, Ray's held a celebratory ribbon cutting Friday morning.

The shelves are stocked with products from throughout the area and the state. Loucks of Abbotsford have their maple syrup available. There is wine from Munson Bridge near Withee and other varieties hailing from Algoma and Iron River. The honey is from Ashippun. Mustard is from St. Francis. Beer from Stevens Point, Chippewa Falls and Milwaukee is available.

"We wanted to offer a cross-sample or products from across the whole state," Al said.

The cheese comes from LaGrander's near Stanley, Nasonville by Curtiss, Holland Family Farms by Thorp, among other places. Yes, there is even limburger and brick from Monroe.

Ray's has been accepting meat for about three weeks. As of Monday afternoon there was about 6,000 pounds of boneless venison on the shelves, brought in by 175 people.

On Saturday the meat was starting to move in as the 2009 gun deer season got under way. The big day is always the Monday after the hunting season. Al has seen 2,500 to 3,000 pounds of meat pass through his doors on that day. It is a good barometer for the season.

"That basically determines how good the deer hunt was," Al said.

Al has been testing things out in two smoking rooms with small batches as he prepares to process that meat. So far, it looks like they are up to the task.

"It seemed to work pretty well," he said. "But you never know until you do it. We are still in the process of putting things in order."

Summer sausage and hot sticks have been the two main items in the new place. They have been snatched up almost as soon as they are available.

Another popular item is bacon. Al said between 15 and 20 slabs will be smoked and processed per week in the new store. He also has hams smoking for the upcoming Christmas season and many have been claimed by hungry residents already.

"Just getting going we wanted to stick with things we knew," he said.

However, Al is holding off on working with turkey and other birds. At the old store in Unity he never had the room to handle much fowl so he avoided it. With the bigger quarters, the is one more possibility to consider.

Besides meat Ray's Market can't seem to keep pickled herring on the shelf. The business packs two-pound containers of it but they tend to fly out the door. It uses to take two to three weeks to sell 50 pounds batches to keep up with demand.

"We are just getting the hang of things around here," Al said.

Up in the retail section there is still a second display that is not filled up yet, but Al said that will soon have plenty of steaks, chops and other cuts of meat spread out in it. He always wanted to have more of that available but again, space was limited in the old store.

The front entrance will also get a few additions. Al plans on putting up photos of the old store and the new one as it was going up to decorate it. He also salvaged some wood from the old store's floor and plans on using it with a photo collage.

Ray's Market will also be hosting a grand opening celebration December 11 and 12. There will be cheese, wine and sausage sampling. Al is hoping the community stops by to check out the new store and see what is available.

"I just hope everyone likes what we are doing and finds something they like," Al said.