City can’t save Port Washington’s only grocery store

Sentry owners don’t renew lease, buyer can’t be found despite incentives officials scrambled to offer

    Despite last ditch efforts by Port Washington officials to save the city’s only grocery store,  Sanfilippo Sentry owner Joe Sanfilippo said Monday the shop will close its doors in June.
    Sanfilippo said he and his brother Santo are retiring after operating the market in the North Port Shopping Center for 14 years.
    “The plan when we signed the lease five years ago was to retire in 2018,” Sanfilippo, 62, said.
    He said he and his brother had stayed out of the talks between the city and SuperValu, which supplies the store and had been working to find a new owner for the business.
    “We weren’t part of it,” Sanfilippo said. “I don’t have any answers as to that.”
    City officials said on Tuesday that they knew they had been fighting an uphill battle to retain a grocer, but had remained hopeful.
    “I think we put our best foot forward and gave it our best effort,” Mayor Tom Mlada said.
    “It’s a blow to lose the grocery store, its products and services and the jobs. But the biggest disappointment is for the community. The reality of this one leaving is we probably won’t get a grocer back.”
SENTRY    That certainly seems to be the case at the current location. The landlord has been 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 with the notation “Not available for supermarket use.”
    Recognizing the value a local grocery store brings to a community, the Common Council last month put together an incentive package of local and state loans and grants for a prospective buyer of the grocery store.
    SuperValu was leading the discussions with the prospective buyer, who hailed from western Wisconsin, officials said, noting Sanfilippo had the ability to transfer his lease to another grocer.
    The city was on the verge of losing Sentry 14 years ago when Sanfilippo took over the grocery store.
    The store closed at the end of May 2004, and Sanfilippo reopened it on July 5.
    Sanfilippo said he had previously been a partner in two different ventures, but wanted his own store so he and his brother took over the Port grocery.  
    “The overall experience has been wonderful,” he said. “We love the community. We love the city. We appreciate everything they’ve done. We’re happy we were able to do what we have for as long as we have.”
    It’s sad to see the store closing approach, Sanfilippo said.
    “It’s not only sad to close, it’s sad someone else isn’t continuing (the business),” he said.
“We did everything we could. The other parties did everything they could.
    “If I was 52 and we had a five-year (lease) option, I would have extended it,” he added. “It’s just time to do some more fishing.”
    The loss of Sentry not only leaves Port without a grocer, it also leaves a large vacant space at the city’s north gateway.
    “I think we have to pivot in pretty short order. We’ll look at it as an opportunity,” Mlada said.
    The fact the store is at the I-43 interchange and the shopping center would be part of a planned north-side tax incremental financing district could help in the effort to attract a new tenant, he said.
    The shopping center is owned by PJR Properties LLC of Sheboygan, and officials said it is owned by the CEO of Piggly Wiggly Midwest.
    “We have to talk to the owners,” Mlada said. “We’d like to see something differentiating up there.”
    He said he expects the city’s Community Development Authority and Economic Development Committee will discuss the vacancy when they meet in the coming weeks.



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