Mt. Joseph Family Foods, Joseph’s community grocer and butcher, closed its doors –– at least temporarily –– Feb. 1.
The store had failed twice in the past. Joseph resident Troy Berglund took over operations in 2005. A sister store Market Place Family Foods in La Grande, also owned by Berglund, closed its doors the same day. Approximately 15 full and part-time employees of the Joseph location were laid off as a result of the closure. Developer Al Adelsberger owns the property on Main Street in Joseph.
Marco Rennie, who served as a consultant for Berglund, told the Chieftain late Tuesday morning that the underlying reason for the store closures was an inability of wholesalers to provide goods the public was interested in buying.
Rennie, an Enterprise resident, has an extensive background in retail and rural grocery, including 15 years with Whole Foods. He came on board at Berglund’s request last April.
The store was being remodeled. In recent weeks, the amount of product available for purchase had declined noticeably.
Rennie said that the situation surrounding the La Grande store did not directly contribute to the demise of the Joseph store.
Rennie said that Berglund had a relationship with URM Stores Inc, a retail grocery supplier out of Spokane, who had been his primary wholesaler for a long time.
When Berglund was planning the La Grande store, URM had asked him to do a feasibility study, which cost Berglund $7,000. The study, conducted by URM, indicated that a store would do $3.5 million per year in its first year of business and also indicated that La Grande customers wanted different brands than those offered by other grocery stores in the area.
“They didn’t necessarily see Western Family as being different,” Rennie said.
He added that URM set the store and the mix of products was clearly not what customers wanted. At a meeting with the CEO of URM, which Rennie also attended, Berglund explained the customer dissatisfaction.
“The reality was, they (URM) didn’t have that mix of products,” Rennie said. “They provided us with a survey that we’ll do $3.5 million out of this store with the product they have, and that was not the case.”
Rennie said that the URM CEO had also promised to change the situation and supply items more appealing to customers, but didn’t follow through. Berglund tried switching wholesalers about five months ago, but by that point it was too late.
“I attribute a big chunk of that (store closures) to wholesalers,” Rennie said. “Not having the right wholesaler made a huge difference. He made a lot of decisions based on that survey, and it wasn’t accurate, it wasn’t a good barometer.”
The consultant said that Berglund did everything he could within his power to continue.
“The guy was working seven days a week trying to make it work, and I think he just emotionally got to a place where he couldn’t do it any longer. It’s very unfortunate.”
The nonperishable inventory of both stores is secured within as Berglund decides his next steps.
Rennie said his own role in the future of the stores is uncertain.
“I believe the community would support a store that was well stocked, clean, offered the variety of products they want,” he said.
Asked if he thought Berglund would be involved in a re-opening of the store, Rennie said he didn’t know.
“It’s up to Troy to decide what can or is willing to do,” Rennie said.
The Joseph store currently carries a sign that indicates the store is negotiating with a new wholesaler and welcomes public input on recommendations. It gives an email of firstname.lastname@example.org for responses.
The store closure is also on the agenda for the Joseph City Council’s Feb. 8 meeting.
Jerry’s Main Street Market had been a fixture in Joseph for 20 years before it burned in March 1992. It became Chesters in 2004, owned by Robert and Kay Cowan Thompson of John Day.
Six months later, the store closed with the owners indicating the finances were not working.
Al Adelsberger purchased the market in 2005, and Berglund moved from Pomeroy, Wash., to Joseph to operate the business.
Staffer Kathleen Ellyn also contributed to this report.