Ki-Be Market owners encourage Benton City pride

One would be hard pressed to find bigger boosters of Benton City than Mark and Lori Loften.

The couple have lived in the small town west of the Tri-Cities since 2006 where they own and run Ki-Be Market.

Along the way, they’ve helped their community and employees, supporting citywide cleanup efforts, employees down on their luck and local schools, youth sports teams and the town’s fire department.

The grocery store’s uniform shirts are blue and white – the same colors of Kiona-Benton City High School, which is just across the street.

Their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.

The Loftens were honored last month by the Washington Food Industry Association, or WFIA, with the 2017-18 Community Service Award.

“From community tailgates to youth sports sponsorships, tutoring programs and more, Mark and Lori Loften have lifted up the community of Benton City and restored a sense of pride among its residents,” said Jan Gee, president and CEO of the association. “The Loftens understand children and families are at the heart of this community. Their enthusiasm and generosity have rejuvenated Benton City, and the stories of their kindness are seemingly endless. Mark and Lori exemplify what it means to be good citizens, and we are so proud to honor them with this well-deserved award.”

The statewide industry association is dedicated to promoting and protecting stores and their suppliers. Founded in 1899, the WFIA represents the state’s independent grocers.

The grocery industry provides about 50,000 jobs in Washington state. The award honors those who exemplify the highest standards of services in both business and community to positively influence and enhance the lives of others.

Troy Tanner nominated the Loftens for the award.

“Mark and Lori have helped create a new positive culture within their community and helped local kids become more well-rounded individuals who learn from their examples on how to become a good citizen,” said Tanner, a WFIA member and retail operations counselor with Family Foods. “They feel that if the kids in the school or the community have pride in their town and their school, they will take care of both.”

It took the Loftens a change of pace to really find their home.

“We were both working for Rob Martin, managing Price Choppers in Cashmere and Quincy,” Mark said.

At one point, the Loftens were managing five different stores — two in Pasco,  and in Cashmere, Quincy and Sunnyside.

“We were never home,” Lori said. “My parents raised our first two kids.”

It was time to slow down.

But it happened by chance.

One day in 2006, the Loftens were planning to move to Cashmere to buy land for a new store. But that morning, Mark picked up a newspaper and read a story about senior citizens in Benton City wanting a grocery store so they didn’t have to drive to the Tri-Cities or Prosser to go food shopping.

The last big grocery store in Benton City, the Red Apple, shut down in 2004.

“And for one-and-a-half years, Benton City was left without a big grocery store,” Mark said.

This would be their next move. The Loftens bought the store at 1215 Horne Drive and decided to put down roots in Benton City, population 3,360.

That meant becoming part of the community.

“When we first got here, Benton City had a kind of stigmatism that was not good,” Mark said. “We had been told by some people to don’t let the local kids into the store, that the kids would damage the store. But the kids were polite.”

The Loftens worked closely with city officials on a beautification project, pulling weeds on Main Street and working with area businesses to spruce up the downtown area.

They also helped with the “Why drive?” effort, encouraging local residents to shop local and not drive into the Tri-Cities.

“We put all the local businesses on the back of the shirt everyone was wearing,” Mark said. “It’s a pride thing, and it worked.”

Ki-Be Market has 15 employees, many of whom started when they were in school.

Some of them have needed help over the years.

Like the time a Ki-Be High School vice principal called Mark and said they had a kid who was aging out of the foster care system. Could he help?

So the Loftens hired the young man, who lived on the other side of Interstate 82 and rode his bicycle to work every day. The Loftens found him a used car.

Or the time a young married couple gave their notice on the same day. They lived in Richland, and their only car was in the shop and they didn’t have any money to get it out. The Loftens wrote them a check.

Or the time an employee was going through a divorce and her ex-husband took the car, leaving her with no way to get to work, forcing her to give notice.

Mark convinced a family member trying to sell an old car to give it to him at a reduced rate so the woman had a way to get to work.

Every year, the Loftens donate to the annual Fireman’s Ball in various ways, whether financially or with gift baskets.

But it’s the local youth who hold a soft spot in the family’s hearts.

The Loftens’ youngest child is still in high school.

She plays soccer. The Loftens built a soccer training field at their home. They also built a sand volleyball pit.

“Our daughter doesn’t play volleyball. But some of our daughter’s friends play volleyball,” Mark shrugged. “It’s a great place to train. The soccer kids usually come over twice a week during the summer.”

On Ki-Be road trips, the couple’s daughter makes sure the team has energy bars and bananas. The Loftens go to all road games to cheer the team on.

Youth sports teams get sponsored by Ki-Be Market.

Ki-Be athletes of the week have their full, life-size cutouts displayed the following week in the store.

Slowing down to run the Ki-Be Market has allowed the couple to enjoy life.

“I coached my son in football, and my daughter in soccer,” Mark said.

It’s no wonder the latest catch slogan around town is, “Welcome to Bear Country,” after the high school’s mascot.

“Happiness comes from the inside,” Mark said. “The kids come over here from the school. I measure what I tell them. When young people are between 20 and 35, a lot of the time it’s about, ‘Let’s make money.’

“But when I’m dead and gone, and people are standing over my grave, it’s not going to be about money. It’s more about how you affect people’s lives.”

That’s why the Loftens are always looking to pay things forward. They do it because they love their community.

“This town has worked to get its pride back,” Mark said.

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