Throughout Pandemic, Skymart Has a Friendly Face for Remaining Office Workers
Owner Gregg Roberts is doing his best to maintain a sense of normalcy.
By Madeline Christensen
Floors above the streets of downtown Lincoln, Gregg Roberts operates an oasis for many: the Skymart Snack Shop.
Located just off of the downtown Skywalk system—which has connected many buildings, hotels, and parking garages in downtown Lincoln for decades—you can find the Skymart in what is now the Southeast Community College building at 11th and O.
What once was envisioned as a sprawling mall connecting hundreds of shops is now primarily a walkway for downtown office employees. Many Lincolnites never have a reason to frequent the Skywalk, but its suspended bridges above the street are walked daily by hundreds of State employees in the Gold’s building, Nelnet employees who now work in the old Miller and Paine building, students and staff at Southeast Community College, and more.
The ecosystem of downtown Lincoln’s upper floors has changed over time, but the Skymart—and Roberts’ friendly grin, dry humor, and connection with his customers—have remained consistent for more than 15 years.
“The best part of the job is people,” Roberts said. “Interacting with people. I have regulars. I think that's what really helps. My daughter works here, and my son-in-law. We're all kind of outgoing. That's what keeps people coming, we joke around with customers and talk with them. Sometimes we go a little bit overboard--we've gotten warned a couple times by SCC that we need to tone it down.”
On a regular weekday morning, the Skymart is full of people waiting in line for a bite to eat. Business had been booming (2019 had been Skymarts’ best year yet), but in March, COVID-19 turned everything upside down. Foot traffic in the Skywalk disappeared almost overnight.
Roberts tried delivery for a while, but ditched the idea in lieu of what he’s best at: consistency.
For him, that means continuing with his daily videos on Facebook, popping in to tell you the special and wish you a fantastic day.
“The videos have nothing to do with COVID,” he said. “It's just normal, day-to-day. I try to be consistent. I think that's what people want.”
Although business has slowed to a crawl, there are still state employees working in their offices who need breakfast, lunch, or ice in the middle of the day—and appreciate a little conversation with Roberts, too.
“Hundreds of people know him and love him,” Kristal Millstead said, a state employee and Skymart regular. “He’s a staple here.”
Roberts bought the Skymart in 2004, although the shop had been operating under its previous owner since the 80s.
Before Skymart, Roberts had bartended, done carpet cleaning and commercial cleaning, and managed the ShopKo on south 27th street for 20 years. But he grew up hanging around the restaurant at the northern Wisconsin resort his parents owned, and his dream had always been to own his own bar. When the Skymart went up for sale, he figured he’d take a chance on a smaller venture first.
Business was slow in the beginning, but when another lunch spot’s owner took a week-long vacation, people discovered Roberts’ salad bar, breakfast burritos, and famous buffalo chicken wrap.
“After that, business just kept going up,” he said.
Owning the Skymart turned out to be almost better than a bar. Roberts had his regulars—without the late nights or weekends.
These days, Roberts is doing the best he can to maintain a sense of normalcy. He said he’s making an effort to avoid complaining, keep upbeat, and talk about other, non-pandemic-related things.
So for today, he’ll press record on his iPhone and greet his loyal Facebook following once again.
“I believe we're all going to come back from this,” Roberts said. “But I just like to have fun, that’s just me. So that's what I try to do.”
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