Oliver’s Market, with four locations in Sonoma County, knows its sweet spot: providing a wide assortment of products—more than 6,000, in fact—from in-county growers and manufacturers. One out of every four dollars spent at Oliver’s is spent on local products, the grocer touts on its website.

But focusing on local doesn’t mean excluding big-name national brands: Oliver’s seeks to be a go-to for consumers’ entire grocery run—not a specialty shop for only certain types of products.

“We have always operated our business on the premise that we are here to provide choices for our customers, and not make choices for them,” the company says.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, that commitment to delivering on a promise of choice for customers and continuing to cultivate strong relationships with local suppliers helped create an in-store experience that offered consumers and employees alike some sense of stability. “We still want to provide the best shopping experience of any grocery store in Sonoma County,” says Oliver’s founder Steve Maass, who opened the first Oliver’s Market in 1988.

“[Throughout 2020,] win-win relationships with our local supplier partners helped us source products most needed in our communities, notably meat, seafood, produce and even sanitizer, among many more,” Maass adds. “In a time of economic uncertainty and significant swings in our sales mix, we collaborated with our teams and decided that the normal department goals would be set aside and we would work together for companywide goals and storewide goals. In other words, our goals became ‘team over me.’ ”

No employees were laid off when business in the bakery and deli departments dipped sharply last spring; rather, team members were shifted to other departments as store needs and customer shopping patterns changed. And Oliver’s stores continue to place a high priority on staff education about, in particular, local and unique products carried so that team members can not only help customers find the items they’re looking for but also offer guidance on how to use or prepare them.