Businesses in Bloomington come and go, but some endure no matter what the state of the economy or shifting consumer tastes. For example, this year Goods for Cooks—the cookware store on the downtown Square—is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

What’s Goods’ secret?

“When I bought the business in 2005, I knew we couldn’t compete with larger stores on price,” says Goods proprietor Andrew Appel, “so I thought we could out-compete them by providing better customer service.”

To that end, Appel began offering to make special orders for customers in search of hard-to-find items. When one customer wanted a larding needle (a device used to insert strips of seasoned pork fat into meat), Appel found a French company that could fill the order. Another customer looking for a bent-wire Polish dough whisk was similarly satisfied.

Appel has also made a point of hiring staff with extensive knowledge about cooking and cookware. You can go into any store and buy a pan, Appel says, but at most stores all the cashier does is ring you up. “At Goods, we ask how you’re going to use the pan, and how often, and make recommendations based on your needs.”

Along with customer service, Appel was determined early on to revamp the store’s merchandise selection, which before he took over was heavily oriented toward plates, bowls, glasses, and other tableware. Intent on turning Goods into a “hardcore cooking store,” Appel invested in two large pot racks, loaded them with the best cookware he could find, and hung them in the front window. “My goal was that when people walked by, instead of thinking, ‘That’s pretty,’ they’d think, ‘Damn, that’s some serious cookware.’”

Most of the store’s merchandise is high-end but still relatively affordable for the average customer—a deliberate business strategy. “When I took over, Goods was seen as a place for affluent people to shop,” Appel says. A trained engineer, he studied the distribution of incomes in the United States and found that Goods’ prices were in reach of only about 20 percent of local consumers. So he reconfigured the store’s inventory to appeal to a wider range of customers.

“Cooking isn’t something that only well-off people do,” Appel says. “We want Goods to be a welcoming place for anyone who really loves food and loves to cook.”