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Customer and community service drive Pam Dearinger

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Serving on the citizens advisory boardof the Shelby County Recycling District is one way Pam Dearinger gives back to the community. She is also on the Strand Theatre’s board of directors.
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Pam Dearinger's officeMickey's T-Mart used to bethe branch office of a localbank. It doubles as a break room.
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Pam Dearinger wears many hats at her family’s store, Mickey’s T-Mart, including serving as cashier when needed.

By JOHN WALKER - jwalker@shelbynews.com

Like many names, Meeke is not pronounced the way it looks.

“We pronounce it ‘Mickey,’” said Pam Meeke Dearinger. “That’s why it’s that way on the sign.”

That sign she’s referring to says Mickey’s T-Mart, and this year the store, located at 748 S. Harrison St., celebrates 40 years in business.

Pam has been working there since it opened in January 1978 – she was still in high school.

“This is the only job I’ve ever known,” she said.

Pam’s parents, Harry and Brenda Meeke, bought the store from Bill Bowen. Back then it was known as Thrif-T Mart, and they decided to keep the “T” in the name because of the history of it, Pam said.

Now, after 40 years, the grocery business has changed quite a lot, said Pam, who graduated from Ball State University in 1982 with a degree in business management.

Large chain grocers have replaced the many smaller, local stores that used to be here, she said, recalling some in Shelbyville that are no more.

Pam thinks the internet is partly responsible; it’s affected people’s shopping techniques, she said. But also she believes changes in the grocery business are due to changes in the home.

“I think the dynamics of the family has changed,” said Pam, who has two children, Christin and Ian.

Families are busier than ever, and they want as much spare time as they can get, so they want grocery shopping to be point-and-click easy, she said.

However, that’s not the Mickey’s way of doing business.

The store doesn’t have a self-service checkout. Would you rather push buttons on a machine, Pam asked, or see a smiling face? 

Also, Mickey’s doesn’t deliver orders to the door, in large part because of staffing restrictions, and that means shoppers have to come to the store in person.

Some don’t come in just for groceries, said Pam.

“Hugs. I have some customers who come in for a hug,” she said, and she gladly gives them. “After 40 years, they’re family.”

And her instinct for customer service spills over outside the doors of Mickey’s T-Mart, despite a work schedule that starts before dawn, at 5 a.m.

Pam currently serves on the Citizens Advisory Board of the Shelby County Recycling District and on the Strand Theatre’s Board of Directors.

She’s previously been on other local nonprofit boards, and she was one of the first contestants for Dancing with the Shelby County Stars, giving time to that group’s board as well.

“I like to be involved. I want to give back to the community, and that’s one way to do it,” Pam said.

Despite the long hours, there is one thing for which Pam is well known – she’s notoriously cheerful. It doesn’t do any good to get upset about things, she said, it’s much better just to go with the flow.

Where that flow is headed in the grocery business remains to be seen. 

Her children, and her brother Brian’s kids, are not involved in Mickey’s T-Mart. Their father, Harry, is still active in the store, but their mother, Brenda, retired nine years ago.

Even so, while the grocery business may be changing, Mickey’s has no plans to do likewise.

“We’re just an old-fashioned hometown grocery store,” Pam said.