A bitter rivalry with a sweet twist

Central Market employees fight, fight, fight for their collegiate teams.

POULSBO — In an East versus West battle of loyalty and spirit it’s the pride and dignity of two Central Market employees that dangles in the balance.

The question they’ve asked themselves is this: Who among us is a Husky and who sides with the Cougars?

Uberfans and Central Market department managers Melanie Cherry and Billy Hawkins are putting a long-standing state rivalry to the test. Pitted against one another in a sales race to the Apple Cup, each will vend PEZ dispensers modeled after their favorite respective college teams; Cherry is peddling wares for her alma mater, Washington State University, while Hawkins is pumping for the University of Washington.

So who’s found more footing in Little Norway?

So far, the Cougs have the Dawgs beat, but the bet is far from over. After beginning Aug. 22, Cherry and Hawkins will continue until one of two things occurs: the products for one team sell out, thus signaling a win; or the Apple Cup occurs, at which point total sales will be tallied.

Grocery manager Andrew Gagner said 720 dispensers were purchased for each. The products are new to Central Market’s shelves, and the competition grew out of employee musings.

“Somebody said ‘I wonder which one will sell out first?’” explained Cherry, of a meeting at which the dispensers were introduced to staff. Cherry and Hawkins immediately began to posit which school would win; he touted the purple and gold, and she quickly anted up for the crimson and gray.

“Then it went to ‘Well, I’ll betcha ... ,’” she said laughingly.

Cherry, 44, who like Hawkins has worked for Central Market for nine years, said her friendly nemesis will have to dye his hair in Cougar colors if he loses the bet. Should he win, she’ll have to wear UW paraphernalia for a day.

“Which is awful,” she said.

Cherry hails from Bremerton and graduated from Wazzu in 1987. She now manages Central Market’s floral department, near which shoppers can pick up their Cougar-themed candy dispensers. Location has proved to be key in the competition this far; Hawkins’ dispensers are located at the back of the store near the meat department, which he manages. Gagner noted the placement means Cherry can easily nab support from customers as they enter while Hawkins is left with less face time.

“I am running behind, but I have faith in my Husky fans,” Hawkins said. A few of his coworkers have stepped up to help, putting Husky-themed PEZ baskets in the pizzeria and coffee shop to balance things out.

At 38, Hawkins said he’s a Kitsap native and longtime UW fan.

“They’ve always been the team for me, being from Western Washington,” he said.

Gagner said the wager comes down to simply having a good time.

“It’s fun. That’s the whole thing — it’s fun,” he said. “It’s fun to have humor with what you’re doing in any job you try to do.”

The dispensers are currently being sold two for $3 at each department’s location and at an end-cap near the check-out stands. The Apple Cup is scheduled for Nov. 22. For more information, call (360) 779-1881.

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