by Dana Cooper | photos by Addie James
Inside the corporate offices of Castle Retail Group, the operating entity behind Cash Saver food outlet, Rick James is kept company by an impressive collection of golf memorabilia, collected through the years he has participated in the FedEx/St. Jude Classic alongside some of the sport’s greatest athletes. “I don’t play as much as I used to, but it’s one of those activities that can get me away from a moment of working.”
The hardworking James, a native of Cabool, Missouri, jokes about how often he has moved throughout his life so far. “Memphis is my 17th change of address card,” he says. As a child, James spent a few years in Canada before moving to Illinois and then Kentucky, where he graduated high school, met his wife, Cathy, and finished college before heading to the Mid-South.
Having been in Memphis for 31 years, James considers the city his true home, and he will defend it against suburban naysayers. “People who live on the outskirts just don’t understand what a cool place this is,” he says, citing the music and food scenes that get such great press and reviews from visitors to the city. “Sometimes, I don’t even think we as Memphians recognize just what we’ve got. It’s a little bit of an inferiority complex, I think.”
After arriving in Memphis, James spent a few decades managing and improving other grocery stores before taking the helm of Piggly Wiggly prior to its closure and subsequent conversion to Cash Saver. Currently, his group operates three Cash Saver locations, including its flagship store at 1620 Madison. The popular Madison Growler Shop, located inside the Madison Avenue store, was created according to his son Taylor’s vision. James credits this vision for Cash Saver and the Growler Shop’s fourth consecutive first-place finish in The Memphis Flyer’s Best of Memphis awards for Best Beer Selection (Store).
On a personal level, James’ daughters Addie and Lauren have inspired him to grow in ways
that challenged a mindset that was the result of his traditional, conservative upbringing. “I was not raised with a progressive attitude toward inclusion,” James says. “My daughters have been advocates and allies for the LGBTQ+ community from early in their high school years, primarily in support of close friends who were struggling with family pressure and peer negativity.”
James says that growing close to his daughters’ friends helped him realize that it wasn’t enough to sit idly by while they faced prejudice and hate. “[My daughters] instilled in me that the right thing to do is to be caring, supportive and
to stand against inequality in all forms.”
His stand against inequality has also informed many of his decisions at Cash Saver. Not wanting to create additional burdens in his customers’ lives, James says the stores’ pricing model – source-to-shelf pricing – allows him and his three store managers to purchase the lowest-cost items and keep overhead low. This creates a low-price ripple effect throughout the store, one that doesn’t rely on limited-time sale prices in order for customers to realize the savings.
“If we can save people on what they spend at the grocery store, they have more money available for things like utilities, rent, and transportation to a job.”
James is also on the board of directors of the Mid-South Food Bank, which works to eliminate hunger and food insecurity throughout the region. He and his wife Cathy devote their time to supporting other causes in the Memphis area, as well, including the Ragin’ Cajun Crawfish Festival to support Porter-Leath, Memphis’ leading child advocacy center. Cash Saver hosts the event’s Gumbo Cookoff. The WLOK Black Film Festival, which will be held later in 2018, will also receive Cash Saver’s support.
When not hard at work, James enjoys taking in theatre with his family, a nod to his days performing on stage as a teen. Nights at home usually find him enjoying some quality television programming with his wife and daughters, particularly “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” – he admits getting emotional over the show from time to time – and “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Without hesitation, James names his favorite queen: BenDeLaCreme. “She took herself right out of it,” James says of DeLa’s controversial decision to eliminate herself from the competition during the show’s sixth season. “I was heartbroken.”
Through his work in the community and his devotion to his family, James’ philosophy of compassion toward and acceptance of all people is one that is easy to see in action. “I think God made us all different, just to see if we were up to the challenge,” James says. “It would be too easy to love all your neighbors if they were exactly like you.”