Big-box bargain hunters, mobile customers blamed for grocery store’s demise
There are no printed signs in the windows, but the messages are clear in the darkened aisles and snow-filled parking lot.
Fredonia’s Village Market, 119 Highland Dr., is closed — probably for good.
The village’s only grocery store closed in late December without any warning or fanfare.
Former grocery owner David Roggenbuck sold the business last June to Germantown businessman Rameshbhai Savaliya, offering the property on a six-month lease.
Roggenbuck had run the store since 1997, but at the time of the sale said he could no longer make a go of it against dominant big-box retailers.
When he sold the business, Roggenbuck also offered a warning.
“It is a tough business, especially when people only stop in for one or two items before heading to places like Walmart or Target for their major grocery shopping,” he said.
“If the building ends up coming back to me in six months, I don’t plan on restocking. I’ll just have a vacant building to sell.”
The closing leaves Fredonia residents without a grocery store, the same fate that Belgium encountered several years ago when its newly opened market closed.
The intricacies and frustrations of the free-market system are not lost on Lisa Dohrwardt, a Fredonia village trustee, business owner and board member of the Fredonia Chamber of Commerce.
Dohrwardt turned to the lyrics of a Joni Mitchell song to offer some explanation.
“I think it is a case of ‘don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone,’” she said.
“I believe Fredonia is caught both in an economic malaise and the big-box squeeze. We don’t really have an anchor store to draw people in. Most people work out of town and stop for everything at once at their local big-box.”
Dohrwardt said the popularity of “buy local” campaigns underlines the importance of a thriving hometown economy.
Still, she said, that message is often lost.
“I think people have a hard time connecting business tax base and local establishments with a positive tax base and general wellbeing and convenience,” Dohrwardt said.
She said there are economic lessons to be learned whenever a local business closes.
“If a community doesn’t have a good business tax base, that makes taxes more expensive for residents. Money is tight, so everybody is watching every penny,” Dohrwardt said.
“When the majority of the population can drive anywhere to get the most products for their dollar, out the window go small businesses who have a greater proportion of overhead-to-income and can’t order the quantity of items a big-box can to get the most ‘reasonable’ wholesale prices on items.”
As small businesses succumb to major retailers, Dohrwardt said, civic groups inevitably feel the bite.
“It makes it harder for organizations like Chambers of Commerce to find local members, harder for a community to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining,” Dohrwardt said.
“It is hard finding volunteers for active community groups and organizations, and it’s hard finding people who put the health of the overall community before the bottom line in their pocketbook.”
Because of the competitive business community, Dohrwardt said, the village has been working with Ozaukee Economic Development to make it known what building vacancies exist in the community.
“It is hard to put out the carrot of more affordable rents, land, etc., when everyone is looking for the most monetary return on their investment instead of looking at the return of being part of a community-wide organism,” she said.
Image Information: THE VILLAGE MARKET in Fredonia has closed, leaving the community without a grocery store. The building owner previously said it is unlikely a new market will open at the location. Photo by Mark Jaeger