A family business says goodbye: Rauber's Agway closes in Wayland
After more than 70 years, Rauber's Agway, Inc. has greeted its final customer
The Rauber siblings grew up “playing store” with their own special cash register in their parent’s shop, Rauber’s Agway, Inc.
That sense of play returned to the family business during an inventory closeout sale at the end of the July.
After decades of serving Wayland and the surrounding area, Rauber’s Agway made its final sale and closed the ledger on a piece of local history.
“Toward the end we didn’t have appliances to sell, so we were just ringing people out at 60% off,” said Betsy Cotter. “It was so much fun. It was like we were playing store again.”
Richard Rauber purchased the business from his uncle, Frank Gross, around 1965. Gross had started the operation as a grocery store and hardware business. It expanded into appliances under Rauber’s guidance, and that remained the primary focus in the ensuing decades, although the business continued to offer hardware and local agricultural products.
Rauber’s expanded in 1981, moving out of its historic home on Main Street and into the larger building on Route 15 for the next 40 years.
“People wondered if he’d make it up there getting off Main Street,” Kathy Snyder recalled. “Guess what, before we liquidated we had close to 200 appliances in stock.”
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Family remained a constant throughout the enterprise's many decades. Frank Gross stayed on and did the books for his nephew until his passing in 1972. Kathy had just graduated high school, and her dad asked her to take over. She continued in that role until 1980, when she took a leave of absence and trained Betsy to take her place. Their sisters, Susie, Sandy and Mary, also worked at the family business.
“We all wanted to be home with our children and raise our children before we came back into the business, which worked out well,” said Kathy. “People marveled at us that we could work together and get along and would like to come to work and see each other. We missed each other over the weekend.”
That closeness helped the family overcome tragedy. A sister, Jane Mark, passed away in 2015 and the family lost a brother, Richard Rauber Jr., to a sudden snowmobile accident in 1974.
“He was just coming into the business. It very hard on all of us,” said Kathy. “We were all very young.”
The head of the Rauber household, Richard and Catherine, were community fixtures for their customers. Richard was well known for offering sage advice and generosity, helping out families in a tough spot. Richard passed away in 1993 and Catherine followed in 2017 at 89, leaving the children to continue the business.
“People had a hard time coming in here after she passed. She was the pillar here, too. People just loved to see her here and talk to her,” said Kathy. “We didn’t think we could do it without dad when he passed but him and mom gave us the strength.”
Deciding to close the family business
As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in 2020 and stretched into 2021, the Rauber siblings began to come to the realization that it was time to close the business. The shutdowns hit supply chains hard, and Rauber’s Agway was faced with a constant shortfall of its signature products.
“We would place an order for 60 appliances and sometimes we were lucky to get six or eight of them, and they were gone in a week,” said Kathy. “Anything we got, it went right out. It’s stressful. We couldn’t sleep at night because we’d get an order for four or five appliances for a new house and it’s like oh my God, how are we going to get these? We’d look at the orders every day, is it coming?”
With the siblings all reaching retirement age — Betsy, at 61, is the baby of the group — the family made a collective decision that the time was right to close the family business.
“It was definitely bittersweet, there’s no doubt,” said Betsy. “We wondered if we were ready. We just couldn’t get stuff, so we figured this was a good time. We had been talking about it. It was hard after mom passed, but we did what we could to keep it going for her. Now, we know the time was right.”
“We know it’s the right decision,” added Kathy. “I just feel such a relief. We doubled our business, and we were so busy that it was stressful. We couldn’t get help. It has been a great thing for the family. People ask if we’re sad, but no, we’re not. There’s definitely many memories, but we know it’s the right thing to do.”
Service manager Dave Polmanteer, Mary’s husband, will still do service work in the area. The couple will also continue selling their potatoes and corn across from Wayland Dental Care. The Rauber's building on Route 15 has drawn interest, and the family is hopeful that it will continue to remain a viable part of the Wayland community. Betsy and Kathy were on clean-out duty Monday and discovered paperwork from 1965.
"Dad never threw anything away," said Betsy.
A closeout sale at the end of July drew a steady stream of customers dropping in one last time to say goodbye. One customer brought muffins, others brought gifts. The sisters said the support from the community was “overwhelming,” a testament to the Rauber’s Agway legacy.
Chris Potter can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ChrisPotter413. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.