The impending loss of the area’s sole grocery store feels like another punch in a long succession of blows, say residents and business owners in east Columbus.
Indiana-based Marsh announced that its Hometown Market store at 2710 State St. will close within the next two weeks.
For residents on the city’s east side, the closing means more than the loss of just another store. It represents a further loss of independence and prestige.
“I think it’s terrible,” said LaDonna Armstrong, 73, who lives on Hinman Street and has lived in the area for nearly 30 years.
Armstrong, who walks with a cane or walker, said she liked shopping at the State Street Marsh — a mile away from her home — in part because it was small, making it easier for her to get around.
“I’ve always shopped at that store,” she said.
Now, Armstrong said she is considering her options, none of which she feels is ideal:
Martha Smock, 80, who owns a commercial building on South Mapleton Street, said she fears closing the neighborhood Marsh will make it even more difficult to revitalize the area.“The more we lose, the worse it’s going to be,” said Smock, who lives near Kroger but frequently shops at the eastside Marsh store.
Smock said that in the past few years, the neighborhood has lost:
“It’s a shame,” Smock said.
Kristie Minor, who owns the Marsh property on State Street, said she would love to find another grocery store for that location.
“We really need one on that side of town,” she said. “That’s were I shop.”
Minor, who owns the property with her husband, Terry, said she found out that Marsh was closing by reading about it in the newspaper.
Jim Brown of Elizabethtown opened the 20,000-square-foot store in 1959 with 25 employees.
“We had a great business,” Brown said, reminiscing about the early days. “We were really proud of it.”
Brown, a member of the Elizabethtown City Council and father of former Columbus City Council member John Brown, had worked for Jay C for five years and at the Kroger on Sixth Street for 10 years when he heard that Marsh was going to open a store on the east side of Columbus.
He wanted to work in a new, modern, big grocery store. After six months training with Marsh in Greensburg and Indianapolis, he was asked to run the Columbus store.
“It was great,” he said. “I knew 95 percent of the customers.”
Brown stayed with the store for six years before moving into management and later into the Village Pantry convenience-store division. He retired from Marsh in 1995. Combined with his work in the U.S. Navy’s food service department, he spent 50 years in the grocery business.
He said he occasionally sees some of his former employees and children of the store’s former customers.
“They still call me Mr. Brown,” he said. “We really had a great family.”
Brown still shops at Marsh. When he was in the store Thursday, many of its shelves already were empty.
“I hate to see them go,” he said.
Well before the Marsh announcement, timed to expiration of the store’s lease, the city identified the east side as being in need of revitalization.
A month ago, the city awarded a $63,335 contract to Chicago-based Lakota Group to conduct a study to provide a road map for revitalizing the area. Results of the study are expected in late summer.
Jeff Bergman, the city/county planning director, said his office has sent to the Lakota Group The Republic’s story about the Marsh closing, including Facebook comments left by readers.
Bergman said it is too early to determine what impact the loss of the grocery store will have on the report, but he expects the Lakota Group to address how the store closing will affect the neighborhood and whether that kind of service should be restored to that area.
Bergman also said, however, that it also opens that property to other possible developments.
Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown said her primary hope is that employees from the State Street grocery store will find new work soon. Marsh said in its announcement that it hoped many of them would be hired at some of its other stores.
Brown said the store closing will not affect the city’s commitment to complete the study, which will include an analysis of the market and demographics.
“It doesn’t change our path,” Brown said.
The mayor said she feels that Marsh’s decision revealed less about east Columbus and more about the struggles of regional grocery store chains. Marsh, Kroger and other chains put pressure on small, local grocery shops, Brown said, but the chains have been feeling stiff competition themselves from even larger stores that sell groceries, such as Walmart and Target.
Rather than chains, Brown said she would prefer to see more unique stores in eastern Columbus, including ethnic grocery stores, restaurants and retailers that can attract shoppers from other parts of the city.
“We’ll have to see what the study says,” Brown said.
Smock said that with a few of the right businesses — a grocery store, a bank, a medical facility — the eastern part of the city could thrive.
She said it already has a good industrial base that includes one of the city’s largest employers, Dorel Juvenile Group, and businesses such as West Trucking, which bought the former Irwin Union Bank property on State Street. The neighborhood also includes busy schools, including Columbus East High School and Columbus Signature Academy — Fodrea Campus, and active churches. Other hopeful signs: Developers have plans to turn a former mobile home park into a gas station and convenience store, and International School of Columbus wants to move into the neighborhood.
Whatever happens, Armstrong, the longtime east Columbus resident, said she will stay loyal to her neighborhood.
“We don’t want to live anywhere else,” Armstrong said. “We like our east side.”
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