Piggly Wiggly has no plans for grocery space in Port


With future of building uncertain, city reels from news Sentry will close

    As area residents continue to express anger and concern about the closing of Port Washington’s only grocery store next summer, the owner of the NorthPort Shopping Center on the city’s north side said this week it’s too early to tell what will replace Sanfilippo Sentry.
    “This is all fresh news. It just happened,” said Gary Suokko, chief operating officer for Piggly Wiggly Midwest, which owns the shopping center. “We have months now to figure things out. Once we come up with a plan, we’ll announce something.
    “There’s been nothing decided.”
    Despite a concerted effort by the city to retain the grocery store, Sentry, the anchor tenant in the center, will close in June. Owner Joe Sanfilippo decided not to renew his lease at the end of November, saying he and his brother Santo are retiring after operating the market for 14 years.
    Area residents have taken to the Internet with their concerns about the loss of Port’s only market and the fact it came at the hands of Piggly Wiggly.
    “Proven fact, when a town loses its grocery store, it loses its town,” Marge Jacobson wrote.
    SENTRY“At one time, there was four operating stores in Port ... Sentry, Port Foods, Merrills and the IGA downtown which later became a Piggly Wiggly,” wrote Jackie Jackson Huybers. “There are elderly in this city who can’t drive outside of the city, are afraid of the roundabouts etc. A city this size with no grocery store? Ridiculous.”
    “I’m not happy with Piggly Wiggly. I’ll go elsewhere,” wrote Bill Krzyzanek — a sentiment many expressed.
    Piggly Wiggly Midwest Chairman Paul Butera said people shouldn’t blame the company, saying the Sanfilippos and SuperValu, the store’s supplier, had the option to renew its lease.
    “If they wanted to stay there, they could have,” he said.
    Butera also said that in most cases, a city will financially help support a grocer, whether through a tax incremental financing district or other means. The city, he said, never approached his company with these types of offers.
    Suokko said Piggly Wiggly will work with the city as it moves forward with plans for the shopping center.
    “We’re going to work with the city,” he said. “They’re very interested in what happens there. It’s a gateway to the city.”
    City Administrator Mark Grams said Tuesday that officials plan to meet with the center owners, although no date has been set.
    Suokko said that the company’s property division, PJR Properties, owns several shopping centers and is looking at ways to revive the entire shopping center.
    “We certainly don’t want empty spaces,” he said.
    The company has been advertising the space with a sign at the corner of the shopping center property that lists a space of as much as 54,000 square feet for rent with the notation “Not available for supermarket use.”
    In general, Suokko said, the company is looking to fill the space with some sort of retail use.
    When asked if Piggly Wiggly would consider a market in the space, Suokko said, “It’s just too early to say anything.
    “We are looking for other ideas. We’ll figure it out.”
    A few interested parties have talked to the company already, Suokko said.
    “We do have some interest,” he said. “We’re going to put our heads together and come up with a plan.”
    The City of Port had offered an incentive package of local and state loans and grants to a prospective new owner of Sanfilippo Sentry to try and retain a grocery. That package could potentially be used to lure a new tenant to the center, Grams said.
    “It depends on what the use is,” he said.
    The city’s Community Development Authority and Economic Development Committee are expected to discuss the vacancy in the coming weeks.



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