A Table Mesa King Soopers Deli Manager Reflects On The Store's Past And Future After The Shooting
The flowers have all wilted and dried at the fence along Table Mesa Drive, where a temporary memorial stands for the 10 victims of the King Soopers shooting. The posters are fading and the crowds have dispersed as the South Boulder community begins to move forward from the March 22 tragedy.
Last week, Kroger announced their decision to reopen the store by the fall, after a complete remodel. The company has pledged to listen to community input on what that redesign and reopening will look like.
"A challenge for a community in the recovery process is how do you come together to find some common ground?" said Melissa Reeves, a psychologist, author and national expert on prevention and recovery from mass trauma. "Because it's a rare occasion that you're going to make everybody happy with the decisions that are decided about the space."
But the members of the community who spent the most time there before this horrific tragedy are the people who worked there, like Mike Engelhardt. The 50-year-old father of four worked at the Table Mesa King Soopers store for over three years as an assistant deli manager. KUNC’s Rae Solomon spoke with him for Colorado Edition.
These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Rae Solomon: So, Mike, you were not in the store when the shooting happened, but how do you think about that day now?
Mike Engelhardt: I mean, it was a devastating day. I didn't know that anything was really happening there. I thought I had to work that day. So I was actually on my way there and then realized I was supposed to be there that night. And then my son started blowing my phone up. And then when I finally talked to him, he told me that there is an active shooter there. And of course, the first thing I thought was everybody I work with. I mean, I work with some great people and everybody's like friends and family there. We see each other more than we see our own family. And it was definitely devastating to think of anybody there getting hurt.
Did you know any of the victims well?
Rikki Olds, I talked to her every day. I mean, just a couple of days before this happened, she was showing off her tattoo that she got. They were great people, full of everything. Denny Stong, he was probably one of the most ambitious 20-year-olds I've ever met in my life. There is a Geico commercial where there's the camel walking around going “What day is it?” That's what he would do. He would come through, especially if it was like Wednesday. He'd be like, “Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, what day is it? Hump day!” Kind of our thing. He was really into, like, guns and black powder guns and stuff like that. And he was getting his pilot license. We talked about all that stuff all the time. Like Rikki and Denny, you know, I have kids their age. I thought of them as kind of like, you know, kid type. You know what I mean?
I understand that King Soopers was really sort of a community center for South Boulder. Could you tell us a little bit about what it was like to work there before the shooting?
It was great. Like almost all the customers that would know you by name, they would go out of their way to say hi to you. A lot of them, if we see them, like in the produce area or another area, we would go out of our way to say hi to them. We knew the customers almost as well as we knew each other. I mean, they shopped there every day. They would come up to the counter and we knew exactly what they would want and we'd get it ready for them before they even asked.
King Soopers is giving you and your coworkers emergency pay through mid-June without having to work. Since the shooting, I understand that you've started working at another store in Arvada. Could you tell us why you decided to continue working?
I just need to work. I need to stay busy. It was a devastating thing what happened in Boulder. But at the same time, I just believe that you need to live every day to the fullest. And if you live in fear, then you've already lost the battle.
Have you been back to the South Boulder store since March 22?
Yes, I've been to the resource center and to the memorial. It's very heartfelt. You know, there are sad memories of what happened. But at the same time, I try to think of the happy memories that I had with those people, and that's what keeps me going.
You mentioned that you want to remember the store as it was. Now, the company has announced that they will be reopening the store this fall. And what would you like to see happen there? Is it important to you that it looked different when you go back?
I think any change they make, I hope, is going to be a positive thing. Because, I don't know, I think it's important that they reopen the store. The last thing as a community we need to do is let them win and, you know, pull up roots to move somewhere else. And I know that when they do reopen the store, there's not going to be any memory or any thought that's lost for the people that were there.
The Kroger company has said that they're going to seek out community input in figuring out how to remodel the store. Are you planning to offer any of your input?
If they were to ask, yeah, I would probably offer some sort of input. But at the same time, it's a corporation. So, they kind of have a standard setting of the way they want their stores to look. And I understand that, and I respect that. You know, I don't think it's going to be a whole lot different, maybe different floors, maybe pictures on the walls or something. I don't know. I don't think it's going to be a whole lot different.
Have you felt supported by the company?
The company has been a great, offering resources and assistance and stuff like that. But the union that represents us, the UFCW, they have been magnificent in making sure that every employee gets what they need. Whether it's counseling, assistance with bills or whatever the case may be, the way they have worked with the company to help every employee get what they need has just been remarkable.
When the store does reopen, do you plan to return there? Are you going to go back to working there?
My whole goal with the company has always been to advance and move forward. I'm 50 years old, so I don't plan on looking for another job. You know, this is my career. It's kind of hard to say if I would go back, depending on where I'm at that time. I mean, if there's a position available and I felt that it was a positive change for me, I would absolutely go back.
Can you talk about how you're preparing yourself for the day the Table Mesa King Soopers reopens?
I don't think you can really prepare yourself. It's kind of the anticipation that's building up like, oh, my gosh, I wonder what they're going to do. I wonder if the deli is going to be the same as it was. I wonder if it's going to be where the meat department was. I wonder, you know, it's just more of anticipation. I don't really think there's a way to prepare, necessarily, for it.
When there's a permanent memorial, which could be a few years away, how would you think about that?
I think it just kind of depends on how you look at it. With me, I don't think it would be a negative thing. I think it would be great to have some sort of memorial there because I want to remember those people for who they were, not what happened to them.
This conversation is part of KUNC’s Colorado Edition for May 20. You can find the full episode here.