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Council girds for fight to save Port grocery PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 11 October 2017 18:29

With Sentry lease in question, aldermen scramble to find ways to ensure city retains its only food market

    Port Washington aldermen, alarmed by the prospect of losing the city’s only grocery store, agreed Tuesday to consider “all means and options available” to work with Sanfilippo Sentry, its supplier and the owner of the NorthPort Shopping Center, which officials said seems determined to drive the food market away, to ensure the city keeps its supermarket.
    The council, which met in closed session for 75 minutes to consider the use of public funds in this endeavor, authorized city staff to come up with a list of options for review, consideration and possible action at the Tuesday, Oct. 17, Common Council meeting.
    “Everything’s on the table,” City Administrator Mark Grams said.
    Sentry owner Joe Sanfilippo’s lease with the shopping center expires on May 30, 2018, but Sanfilippo needs to notify the landlord by Oct. 31 whether he intends to renew the lease, Mayor Tom Mlada said.
SNTRY LG    Sanfilippo, who could not be reached for comment, would like to see someone take over the business and lease, Grams said.
    The landlord is already advertising the space for rent with a sign at the corner of the shopping center property at the intersection of highways LL and 32 that lists a space of as much as 54,000 square feet for rent.
    Sentry, the largest store in the center, occupies about 47,000 square feet.
    And the sign sets an ominous tone, saying “Not available for supermarket use.”
    The shopping center is owned by PJR Properties LLC of Sheboygan, which bought the building last August, according to the Ozaukee County Register of Deeds office.
    The company has the same address as Piggly Wiggly Midwest.

 “It’s basically that Piggly Wiggly owns the shopping center,” Grams said.
    When asked if the firm was looking to eliminate competition for its Saukville store, Grams replied, “You see the sign up there — what more do you need?”
    City officials met with the owners once or twice, and they made their intentions known, Mlada said.
    “It was crystal clear in their minds there will not be a grocery store here,” he said.
    Since then, officials have tried to remain in contact but their calls have gone unanswered, both Mlada and Grams said.
    The company did not return a call seeking comment.
    The council’s actions — the closed session during a special meeting and a quick deadline for action — underscore the importance officials place on retaining the city’s only grocery store.
    Ald. Mike Ehrlich said a grocery store is a fundamental service in a city, one that helps provide an identity and provide a sense of community.
    “It’s huge for the quality of life in Port Washington,” he said. “It’s the same as a library — it’s one of the fundamental things, one of the staples of life —that can make a community attractive.
    “Without that, there’s a huge hole in the community. It would be a sad day if we lost the grocery store.”
    Grams concurred, saying, “I can’t think of a city of 11,000, 12,000 people that doesn’t have a grocery store.”
    And if Sentry leaves, officials fear, the city will never get another grocer, noting that the area is saturated with supermarkets.
    Grams noted that in Port, Saukville, Grafton and Cedarburg, there are 10 groceries as well as numerous convenience stores.
    “The market’s oversaturated, and the margins are tight,” he said. “What we’re hearing is that none of these grocery stores is doing the best they could be.”
    The city has been working with both Sanfilippo and SuperValu, which supplies Sentry, to try and ensure a grocery store remains in Port by finding a new owner for the business, they said.
    SuperValu officials are “hopeful” a new owner can be found, Grams said. “They’re working hard at it.”
    The city has also been working with Kathleen Cady Schilling, executive director of Ozaukee Economic Development, as well as the state as it seeks ways to help ensure a grocery store remains in Port, Mlada said.
    Part of the challenge the grocery store faces is its location on the far north end of Port, Grams said, noting people on the west and south ends of the city likely shop in Saukville or Grafton.
    “If they were located where Culver’s is (on the west side), we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” he said, because the shop would be more centrally located.
    Mlada noted that the Sentry lease can be extended for five years, with three more five-year extensions that would ensure a grocery could remain in the city for decades to come.
    “This is not just a decision for today,” he said. “This is a long-term decision. It’s an important decision.”
    Sanfilippo has been a good corporate citizen, officials said, noting he has been a generous supporter of community causes and a dedicated businessman.
    “Joe’s carried the business through some very tough times,” Mlada said. “He has a great relationship with the people he employs and his customers.”
    Sanfilippo and his family have been active in discussions about the store over the past year, Mlada said, and “clearly hope to do right by our city. Whether or not that ultimately entails him working through the details with SuperValu and extending the lease or helping them identify a new owner/operator to take on the lease, we’ll have to see.”
    Although they’ve been working with SuperValu and Sanfilippo for more than a year to ensure a grocery store remains in Port, officials acknowledge that there’s little time left.
    Not only does the city need to do what it can to ensure the store remains, so do residents, officials said.
    “We’re at the midnight hour,” Mlada said. “We’re doing our level best, but if this means something to you, speak up. Reach out.”
    Whether the current store remains or new owners are found, is that people support the grocery store, he added.
    “They have to support it with their wallets,” Mlada said.
    If the city is unsuccessful, officials noted, there’s no telling what would replace it in the shopping center. But for now, they’re concentrating on retaining Sentry.
    “No one’s going down without a fight,” Mlada said.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 October 2017 18:35