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A city without a grocery store? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 18 October 2017 16:07

“A good corporate citizen.”
    People in Port Washington are using those words to describe Sanfilippo Sentry, the city’s only supermarket.
    They are not using them to describe the new owner of the NorthPort Shopping Center, and for a good reason: That company’s restrictions on its property could leave the city with no grocery store at all.
    PJR Properties LLC of Sheboygan, an affiliate of the Piggly Wiggly Midwest supermarket chain, bought the shopping center in August and is advertising the space occupied by Sentry for lease with the restriction that it not be used by a supermarket.
    Besides leaving Port Washington without a food market for perhaps the first time in its 182-year history, the demise of Sentry would eliminate a competitor to the Piggly Wiggly market in Saukville.
    Sentry owner Joe Sanfilippo’s lease will expire May 30, 2018. Though he has the option to extend it, there are indications he wants to sell the business. But that option is complicated by the restriction against renting to another supermarket operator.
    The possibility of a thriving community of nearly 12,000 people not having a store that sells the fundamental necessity of life is a measure of economic evolution. When Port Washington’s population was about half its current size, the city had as many as eight grocery stores, plus three meat markets, two bakeries and two fish stores.
    Any one of today’s supermarkets likely has more food offerings than all of those stores combined. Size and variety are not the only aspects of the food business that have changed. So has the competition—it’s fierce. Even though Sentry is the sole supermarket in Port, competitors are but a few minutes’ drive from the city’s west side, and it is no secret that Sanfilippo Sentry has had plenty of challenges.
    But make no mistake, the loss of Sentry would be a blow. For many residents, it’s a convenient alternative to the two big Saukville markets, Walmart and Piggly Wiggly. As a competitor to those stores, it’s part of a dynamic that helps careful shoppers find the best food values. People who live near Sentry and appreciate the benefits of needing only a short drive, or maybe a walk, to buy groceries would especially miss it.
    And there’s more at stake. The perceived inability to support a grocery store would dull some of the lustre on the city’s image as a progressive community attractive to new residents and businesses. It would not go unnoticed that the other Ozaukee County communities of Port’s size, as well as the smaller Village of Saukville, have no dearth of supermarkets.
    A fond hope occasionally voiced in the city is that Sendik’s, the independent, Wisconsin-owned and much respected supermarket company that has stores in Mequon and Grafton, would come to town and succeed Sentry in the NorthPort Shopping Center. That’s probably a fantasy, and in any case the anti-competitor restrictions stand in the way.
    To its credit, Port Washington’s city government has taken a role in trying to save or replace Sanfilippo Sentry. It is the right thing to do, but the city’s options are limited by the lack of a building suitable for a supermarket other than the restricted NorthPort Shopping Center space. Nonetheless, there is some hope that incentives offered by the city will attract a buyer that could carry on the Sentry business under the lease.        
    Against a deadline of October 31 for informing his landlord he intends to extend the lease, Joe Sanfilippo is working with city officials to find a way for the Sentry store to carry on under its lease, which is in keeping with his approach to doing business here. He has been a generous supporter of community causes. That is the characteristic of a good corporate citizen.
    What is not a characteristic of that is the message on the shopping center’s sign advertising for a new tenant for the Sentry space: “Not available for supermarket use.”

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