Saturday, April 23, 2011

...but the store will no longer be here...

When a grocery store has to close, it's always a sad thing. It becomes sad to shop there, because you know that sooner or later it won't exist anymore. And there is no other Albertson's supermarket within at least a 25-mile radius of the store here in North Bend, Oregon. Twenty-five miles doesn't sound like a long distance, but when you factor in that there are no interstate highways around here, the distance becomes, in effect, a bit further because the narrow two-lanes around here can be quite taxing at times. Don't even think about trying to drive them at night; if you do so, you've got to be aware every single millisecond of twists and turns in the road. There's portions of these little roads that I'm uncomfortable driving in the Day! Thankfully, there are numerous "slow vehicle" lanes, where I let everyone else whizz on by. Speed on, brother, hell ain't half full...

So what does this store's closing signify? Well, there's one less place for people to gather, one less place to greet a friendly checker, one less place to access a USBank cash machine, no more Cheap-Chicken Mondays, one less place to get money orders, and so forth, and so on. I was told long ago that an average grocery store makes less than one-half of one percent pure profit, so perhaps even the most successful stores are skating by on a wing and a prayer. Maybe the managements of other grocery stores in town will breathe a bit easier ("maybe we'll get their customers" syndrome). And it's the same old story; the company that owns Albertson's just wasn't making money, and if this happens to a big grocery store (everyone needs food, after all), certainly other, more specialized businesses face a bleak existence. Albertson's is/was part of a fairly large shopping mall here, and perhaps other businesses in that mall will see less customers due to the lost drawing power of the Supermarket.

Follow The Money (or the lack thereof).
Many years ago, I worked for a Buttrey's supermarket in North Idaho. In the late 1980's, that supermarket had to close; so many other stores with longer hours were being built in the area that Buttrey's got squeezed out of the market. I knew the management, and over coffee one morning, the "third man" (a management term, I think), told me that in addition to added competition, Buttrey's, being part of a shopping mall, had to pay fairly exorbitant monthly rent to the Mall Management, and that the amount of money each shopper spent was less per capita at Buttrey's because of all the other places to shop in the mall. So, I guess, a store is more profitable if it stands alone? Sounds like it. Buttrey's was not the cheapest place to shop, although the prices were reasonable, but when I worked there as a 'box-boy', I felt that we had the best customer service in town, as far as grocery stores go. In the final two-weeks before Buttreys had to close altogether, the customer-vultures invaded, looking for really good deals, because the store was trying to get rid of as much stock, as fast as they could. How sad that was to see.

In that same North Idaho town, another large grocery store, Rosauer's, ended up having to close for basically the same reasons almost a decade later. Rosauer's had a full-service restaurant, and it was a great place to go to dine and shop, or vice versa. Some of the restaurant employees told me that their side of the business was making money, but couldn't make enough to overcome the losses over on the Grocery side. Every grocery store has its share of customers who show up almost every day, and there are still others who live in the area but don't or cannot drive. Another fact is, every store has a senior citizen base who come to depend on one store to get the food they need. These stores become gathering places that people depend on, and when those places are gone, people have to try and adapt as best as they can. I was in the Rosauer's restaurant on the final day they were open, and I expressed condolences to the waitress, and immediately she began tearing up; it must have been a really rough day for the staff.

Life goes on, though. When I was in Albertson's to get money orders this week, the lady who was working at the customer service center told me that some employers had actually come to the store to recruit staff for their businesses; I've never heard of that before, but I guess it's possible. And I wish them all success in their future endeavors.


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