Gerald Harp, retired grocery store chain CEO, dies at 80

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 1,191 views 

Gerald Harp, one of four children of Harps Food Stores Inc. founders Harvard and Floy Harp and a retired chief executive of the Springdale-based company, died Friday (Oct. 16).  He was 80. No cause of death was given in his obituary.

Harp was born March 21, 1940. He graduated from Springdale High School in 1958 and later served in the U.S. Army. He returned to Northwest Arkansas and graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1966.

Harp worked for 45 years at Harps Food Stores, which started in 1930 as Harps Cash Grocery and was largely a family-owned business for decades, although management owned some of the stock. Harp spent the last seven years with the company as chief executive officer and chairman, starting in 1995 following the retirement of his older brother, Don Harp.

Gerald Harp was instrumental in selling the 70-year-old company to its employees in 2001, according to his obituary. He gave 10% of his share of the sale to the company’s long-term employees.

Harps Food Stores CEO Kim Eskew went to work for the company as a part-time stock boy and cashier in 1977 while attending the University of Arkansas. He worked almost every job in the business until 2008, when he was appointed president and chief operating officer. In November 2016, the board elected him as CEO.

Eskew said Harp will be remembered for his boisterous laugh, his loyalty to his friends and co-workers and his genuinely compassionate heart for people, particularly those in need.

“At Harps, he was the kind of leader who listened and allowed us to innovate and do our jobs without micromanaging us,” Eskew said in a statement provided to the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “At the same time, you always knew who the boss was.  Our company thrived under his leadership and it was his decision for us to become an ESOP in 2001.  That decision changed our lives forever in a very good and even profitable way.

“Thousands of Harps associates are going to enjoy a much better retirement because of his decision.  I think that everyone who worked for Gerald, liked him, and felt that he liked and cared about them as well.  Gerald will always have a special place in the history of our company and in the hearts of the associates who knew him.”

With approximately 6,000 employees, Harps is the largest employee-owned company headquartered in Arkansas and one of the largest in the U.S. Harps operates 114 stores in four states — Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas.

Harp was preceded in death by his daughter Kimi, son Jerry, sister Judy, brothers Don and Reland, and his parents.

A funeral service conducted through Sisco Funeral Chapel is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday (Oct. 22) at Cross Church in Springdale.

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