After less than a year, Needler’s Fresh Market will close its northeast Columbus store next month.
The 35,240 square-foot Needler’s store at 3075 25th St. in Clover Center was one of 15 former Marsh supermarkets acquired for $8 million last spring by parent company Fresh Encounter Inc., based in Findlay, Ohio.
“We didn’t get the traction in that market that we thought we would,” Fresh Encounter co-owner Julie Anderson said Friday. “We did lower prices and invest in the facilities. But we will start winding things down, and close sometime in mid-April.”
Fresh Encounter also announced a store format change this week in Troy, Ohio, which will result in fewer products and fewer employees, but the Columbus location is the only supermarket the company is closing at this time, she said.
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Details, including an exact closing date, are still being worked out for the Columbus store, Anderson said.
About 50 former Marsh employees in Columbus, including store manager Greg Scherschel, were kept when Needler’s took over in June of last year. A ribbon-cutting event at the new Columbus Needler’s was conducted Dec. 1, slightly more than three months ago.
Existing competition — including the 125,000-square-foot Kroger Marketplace at 3060 N. National Road, just a mile away — was a factor in the decision to close the Columbus Needler’s store, Anderson said.
“We were hopeful customers would want a local, smaller and independent choice, but it seems they wanted something different,” Anderson said.
Efforts to create a hometown store atmosphere included an old-fashioned popcorn machine that provided a fresh supply of popped kernels near the front of the store.
In an interview last year, Scherschel outlined what he considered challenges both prior to and during the transition.
Marsh customers had a perception that the grocery chain charged prices that were higher than its competitors, the store manager said.
Coupled with negative publicity after Marsh declared bankruptcy last spring, customer traffic in Columbus slowed noticeably, Scherschel said.
Although he was hopeful that the Needler’s brand would bring improvements, the Marsh acquisitions took place just weeks after Fresh Encounter took over 10 Cincinnati-based Remke Markets.
That meant Fresh Encounter had to deal with 25 new stores in multiple states acquired at roughly the same time, a key reason it took six months for the full transition in Columbus, Anderson said last November.
Anderson said the company is evaluating what opportunities might be available for Columbus store employees.
Fresh Encounter, Inc. began in 1995, when Michael S. Needler Sr. and his family purchased CWC Companies, a retail grocery chain founded in 1964.
In 1998, Fresh Encounter, Inc. expanded with the acquisition of Fulmer Supermarkets, another retail grocery chain, originally founded in 1909, and again in 2014 with the purchase of Chief Supermarkets, based in Defiance, Ohio.
The chain acquired 15 former Marsh stores in June, including one in Columbus, shortly after acquiring 10 Cincinnati-based Remke Markets stores.
Today, Fresh Encounter operates stores in Ohio and Indiana under a variety of banners.