Mike Rothwell, co–owner of Pennington Quality Market stands in the store’s produce department with Charlie Coward, the store manager, on Jan. 13, 2011.

Mike Rothwell didn’t immediately join the business venture when his father, Larry, purchased Pennington Quality Market in 1981. Nine years later, in 1990, he did, and he says he couldn’t feel more fortunate.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” Rothwell said. “I got the opportunity to come in, work with my dad, continue to learn the business from him, and work alongside him.”

Before Larry Rothwell owned Pennington Quality Market, he worked for a major wholesaler in the food industry. That company distributed products to supermarkets. He rose to the position of vice president of retail sales.

“His customers were a lot of people like Pennington Market, and they also served some regional chains and so forth. But, my dad’s customer base was independent supermarkets, family–owned in most cases, and so I grew up knowing many of those people,” Rothwell said.

Rothwell worked in some of the supermarkets his father served, and began to learn about the industry. In 1978, he graduated from Saint Joseph’s University with a degree in food marketing. He worked in the food industry for Proctor and Gamble and the Mott’s USA division of Cadbury Schweppes. His jobs took him to places such as New York, Chicago and Connecticut, before he decided to join his father in Pennington.

Rothwell now co–owns Pennington Quality market with his father and sisters, Barbara Rothwell Henderson and Terri Rothwell Orlando.

The independent supermarket has been part of the Pennington community since it first opened, under different ownership, in 1960.

“I think it’s critically important to really be involved and be a part of the community and that’s something that my dad was committed to from the day he came in and it’s something that we continue to foster,” Rothwell said.

One way the store gives back is through an annual event called “PQM Fights Cancer Day.” At that event, usually held in late April, the store offers specials and entertainment. Community VIPs, such as politicians and people from the school systems, serve as celebrity baggers. There is also a raffle, and the store donates 5 percent of its sales from that day to the Central Jersey chapter of the American Cancer Society, Rothwell said.

The first event was held in 1993, two months before Rothwell’s mother, Mary, died of breast cancer. Since then, 16 events have raised more than $182,000 for the cause. This year’s “PQM Fights Cancer Day” is scheduled for April 28.

Last spring, the supermarket celebrated its 50th anniversary by hosting a similar event. That year, however, proceeds benefitted the Hopewell Valley YMCA. Rothwell said last year’s event raised $16,600.

“We thought that was an important thing to build our 50th anniversary around because it was going to serve all members of the community,” Rothwell said.

For customers planning their own events, Pennington Quality Market offers catering services. Catering coordinators at the market can help in the planning process. The store’s departments can handle anything from a small house party to a wedding, Rothwell said.

Other departments at Pennington Quality Market have been commended for excellence. Boar’s Head recognized the store’s deli as a “Deli of Distinction.”

The meat department also has a strong reputation, Rothwell said. It sells high–quality meats, and is staffed by experienced butchers, who are able to cut them to each customer’s desires.

Customers are able to sign up for Pennington Quality Market’s Quality Card program. That program rewards customers for their business, Rothwell said. Throughout the year, the store mails free product rewards, in the form of coupons, to customers in the program. The coupons are sent in 5–6 week cycles, and total almost $500 in savings throughout the year, Rothwell said.

There are more rewards for the store’s most loyal customers, he said. During the holiday season, the store sends greeting cards with gift certificates to top customers. Each year, the staff personally delivers gift baskets to the store’s top 15 customers.

“Some people remain on that list, and they love to know where they stand,” Rothwell said.

Pennington Quality Market even offers a kids’ club for its youngest guests. The club offers events and seasonal activities on weekends for children to enjoy while adults shop.

Generations of people from the Rothwell family can also be found at the market on any given day. Rothwell said his father, Larry, enjoys being at the store, and is active in the business. Rothwell’s sister, Barbara, also works at the market, as does his son, Sean.

Rothwell said it’s too soon to know whether Sean will formally join the family business after completing his education. For now, Rothwell enjoys the opportunity to work as a family. “That’s exciting to have more family in the business and to know that just as I’m working alongside my dad, we’ve got Sean here. So, there’s three generations, and I think that’s a very exciting prospect for the future,” he said.

Pennington Quality Market is located at the intersection of Route 31 and West Delaware Avenue in Pennington. Store hours are Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call (609) 737–0058 or go online to pqmonline.com.