By Pamela Cobbs
Mercy College alumna Barbara G. Berger was inducted into the Commission of Independent Colleges and Universities’ 2010 Independent Sector Alumni Hall of Distinction on March 21. Berger was honored for the successful career she has had in the food market industry, as well as the work she does in the community.
Berger has been President of Food City Markets, Inc since 1996. After graduating from Mercy College magna cum laude with an accounting degree, Berger entered into her family’s food market business that had been started by her father in 1953.
“It was an accident,” states Berger on how she began her career.
After graduating from Mercy College, Berger applied to law school but was rejected. Her husband, who was working in the family business, asked if she could go work for him for a year because he needed the help. Once Berger started working there, she realized she did not like the way the deli and bakery departments were being run throughout the 10 stores they owned, so she decided to take matters into her own hands.
At the time Berger entered into the food market business, there were not many women in the industry. There were times when Berger was the only woman at industry meetings.
“I don’t know if they respected what I was trying to accomplish, but they did treat me like a lady,” says Berger.
Berger’s first office was on Burnside Ave in the Bronx, New York. It was in a problem area that had gang activities, but Berger connected with the people in the community so much so that the children and people in the area started calling her “Boss Lady.”
Once the gang activities started getting worse, it was time to move the office from the Bronx, where it had been for 20 years. After leaving the Bronx, the office moved to Westchester and then to New Jersey, and finally to Rockland County, where it is located now.
In the early 90s, Berger made Crane Magazine’s top 50 Women Owned Business List two years in a row. It was this list that would get Berger featured in Donald Trump’s book “Trump the Way to the Top, The Best Advice I Ever Received,” with the quote “The sun doesn’t shine forever.”
Donald Trump’s publisher sent a letter to Berger asking her to write a short note of best business advice to be featured in Trump’s book. Berger did not believe her advice was really going to be published in the book.
Berger said, “Had I known, I would have written more.”
At the time her advice was published in Trump’s book, she had never met him. However, she did get a chance to meet him later on. Unfortunately, it was at the funeral of a mutual friend.
Berger is a supporter for Paul Newman’s charity the Hole in the Wall Gang. The Hole in the Wall Gang charity sends terminally ill children to camp for the summer. Berger describes it as “a phenomenal place for kids.”
At one point, Berger owned 14 food stores, but now she has cut it down to three, with locations in Harrison, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. Berger also owns real estate in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens.
Over the years of her career, Berger had the opportunity to meet many people including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Governor George Pataki, Diane Sawyer, Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray, all whom she described as “fabulous people.”
Berger described herself as “very very lucky” overall in her career, yet realized she had to adapt many times to stay successful.
“With the big guys like Target and Wal-Mart around, the business has changed so much, but I am always looking to expand and grow the business for my children and grandchildren,” says Berger on what is next for her.
Berger’s children are very much involved with the business. Her son joined the family business back in 1989 and her two daughters work for the business part time.
Berger’s father died 13 years ago of lung cancer. Berger says, “This is why I do not sell cigarettes in any of my stores.”
Berger says the best advice, in life and business, is the same advice she received from her grandmother, right before she died at the age of 85.
“She told me, ‘Never regret anything,’ and I make sure that I never do.”