Danny O’Malia reflects on watching Carmel ‘grow up’ through the windows of his family’s supermarket
In 1970, Joe O’Malia began his business’ northward shift by opening a grocery store in Carmel – at the time a town hovering around 6,000 people.
The location O’Malia chose was the intersection of 126th Street and Gray Road. At the beginning, the store’s neighbors were cornfields, remembers O’Malia’s son, Danny.
“Keystone used to just stop dead at 86th Street,” Danny O’Malia said. “It was just cornfields. But they were going to continue it, and my dad said that, and the Carmel schools were going to bring tons more people.”
The 1970 store was the first of three that would eventually open in Carmel, along with several more across Hamilton County. The O’Malias moved their business’ headquarters to a spot along Ind. 32 in Noblesville. The north side was where their customers were, O’Malia remembers his father telling him, so the north side was where they were going to be.
“Carmel was on its way, if you will,” O’Malia said. “So as Carmel grew, we grew with it.”
Working for Dad
O’Malia now leverages lessons learned from his father into a keynote speaking business, teaching others the keys to Joe O’Malia’s customer service success. But in the ’70s, O’Malia was primed to take a different path.
After graduating from Cathedral High School, he went to Xavier University, where he received a degree in education. He moved back to Indianapolis to teach English, and helped out in the supermarkets on nights and weekends when he could.
“Dad said, ‘You can work for me or you can keep teaching. I just want you to do your best,’” O’Malia remembered.
After six years as a teacher, O’Malia decided to take his father up on his offer, going back to work full-time for the store and eventually becoming president of the company, which had grown to a nine-store operation.
The O’Malia’s clover-leaf logo maintained a steady presence on the north side through 2001 when, after years of increasing operations costs and competition from national supermarket chains, the company was sold to Marsh.
“We said, we can’t do this forever,” O’Malia remembered. “We had been able to be the little guy for a while and drive people like Marsh and Kroger crazy. But, things had changed.”
O’Malia stayed on as president of the O’Malia’s division at Marsh until 2006, when he left the company following a corporate restructuring by Sun Capital Investments, brought in to save the flagging supermarket chain.
In 1977, O’Malia followed the rest of his family and moved to Carmel with his wife. Some 35 years later, the O’Malia’s supermarket at the intersection of 126th Street and Gray Road still stands with the clover-leaf logo, and O’Malia still lives in the community he watched grow up.
From his vantage point, O’Malia said he isn’t surprised at Carmel’s growth over the past three decades. But, according to O’Malia, even when it was a small town, Carmel was ahead of the curve.
“When you moved to Indianapolis, say for Eli Lilly, where would you want to come?” O’Malia said. “Carmel was way ahead of everything else. And entrepreneurial people concurred with Joe O’Malia that Carmel was the place to be.”
And though Keystone Avenue was eventually extended through Carmel to 146th Street, O’Malia points first and foremost to the school system when giving credit for the city’s growth.
“The high school has had 100 state championships since that first one, which was the golf team in ’70,” O’Malia said. “In Indiana, where sports are huge, that’s a big thing.”
O’Malia’s professional net now spans beyond Carmel and Hamilton County – he hosts the Indy’s Trusted Servant show on Radio Indy Small Biz every Tuesday at 4 p.m. – but he says he feels no compulsion to leave the city he made his home in 1977.
“We’ll probably be here until we can’t climb the steps anymore,” O’Malia said.
Matthew Williams contributed to this report.