In November 2016, The Madison Press ran an article detailing the struggling sales of Lovejoy’s Market IGA in Plain City. Village mayor Darrin Lane made a plea to the residents to do what they could to help the local business stay alive. But the request apparently fell on deaf ears.
On Wednesday, Dec. 13 a little more than a year later, Lovejoy’s Market IGA, the family-owned and operated grocery store located in Plain City, closed its doors for the last time. The store’s third generation owner, Charlie Lovejoy, made the decision to close last month after nearly a decade of declining sales, growing competition and increased costs of operations.
Early last week he decided that Wednesday, Dec. 13 would be closing day.
A long history
Lovejoy’s grandparents, Paul and Louise Lovejoy, opened the first store in 1950 at the corner of West Main Street and U.S. Route 42. Since then, it’s moved locations several times before settling at the current 900 Village Blvd. address. In the early 1970s, Lovejoy’s father, Bud, took over running the store at its previous location at Lovejoy’s Plaza on Main Street.
Then, after a fire in 1985, the store moved to the location of the current Yoder’s True Value where Lovejoy took over as owner. A fire broke out again at that location prior to the building and opening of the current, 20,000 square foot location in 2001 which served the community for the last 16 years.
In the last week of its operation, Lovejoy’s offered a “going out of business sale” in an effort to clear the shelves. Items were marked down to 20 and 30 percent and eventually to a full 50 percent.
On the Saturday before the closing, the store made more money than it had seen in months.
“People were getting two and three carts full of groceries,” said Deb Hegenderfer, a night manager at the store. “One of the customers spent close to $1,000. As much as it was appreciated, it was a little too late.” Although the store had faced a number of difficult years, for her, the closing is still a shock.
“Times had been tough, but I honestly never thought it would happen,” she said. “I never thought at 63, I’d be looking for a job.”
As the store came closer to closing, each department shut down, from the deli and bakery to the meat department, until the only operations came from the front registers and the customer service desk.
After the close
Charlie and his sister, Tina Sullivan, were the last two family members working at the store full-time. The company had been around since before both of them were born and they each started working at a young age.
“This has been my whole life,” Sullivan said. “I don’t have any idea what I’m going to do next. I’m not thinking about that yet.” Her brother echoed the thought.
“Neither of us do,” Lovejoy said. “I don’t have a clue.” Given everything that needs done in the short-term, Lovejoy said that there hasn’t been much time to plan.
“I need a week or two to breathe,” he said. “I’ll go from there I guess.” In the final year or more of the store being open, Lovejoy was working upwards of 80 hours a week to keep the labor costs down.
A turn for the worst
After the recession in 2008, the state of the economy left many Americans in tough, financial means. Housing foreclosures and diminishing employment forced the stable working class into desperate uncertainty.
People all over the country felt those effects — especially those in small towns and rural communities.
Since then, the country has worked its way back to a stable place, but the damage was done. That, combined with changing lifestyle habits, has contributed to the change in demand.
In an increasing world of convenience and one-stop-shopping, customers have the option of not only getting all their needs met in one location, all they have to do is make a list online and pay for it. The rest is handled by someone else.
Larger stores such as Walmart and Giant Eagle are just two of several businesses that offer curbside service. Customers can shop on their websites and the store employees will pull the orders, bag them up, and load them into the customer’s car at a time chosen by the customer.
“What’s difficult is that we’ve been doing that for years,” Lovejoy said. The store offered delivery service within five to 10 miles of the village. Many customers, particularly those in assisted living communities or some of the elderly residents could call the store and an employee would pull the order for pickup or delivery, sometimes by Lovejoy himself.
Impacting the community
“The store and the family means a lot to me,” said Darrin Lane, Plain City’s mayor. “It’s tough to see it happen to a family who has given so much to this community.” Like many in the community, Lane worked for the Lovejoys in high school. He said the store helped teach him how to work and build friendships.
“This is happening all over America, unfortunately,” Lane said. “I think people are going to miss it when it’s gone.”
Deliveries were just one of the services offered by the store. Lovejoy’s also supplied other local businesses with product including Plain City Druggist and the Shell gas station.
Joe and Robin Craft, pharmacists and owners of Plain City Druggist, regularly purchased items from the store for their pharmacy.
“These last few weeks are the saddest I’ve had since I’ve been in business. The Lovejoy family has treated Robin and me like family since I opened the pharmacy 18 years ago,” said Joe Craft. “Plain City wouldn’t have a pharmacy if it wasn’t for the Lovejoys. They were my landlord and treated me very fairly.” He said the town owed a lot to the store.
“My recommendation to everyone is if they see the Lovejoy family around, to stop and give them a very warm thank you,” he added.
Will Schoenleb, store manager at the Shell gas station in Plain City shared Craft’s thoughts.
“The store made a huge impact on the town and I think everyone at some point or another is going to feel the impact of the store not being there anymore,” Schoenleb said. “I think folks are really going to miss having a grocery in town.”
The store was involved in many local charities such as collecting for the Plain City Food Pantry and supplying St. Joseph’s Catholic Church with discounted orders for their annual fish fry.
They also were the first stop for local food vendors to restock their supply during community events such as the Independence Day celebration and Miami Valley Steam Threshers. Lovejoy’s would special order items for school functions and sporting events as well as take part in food drives and event sponsoring.
“There’s going to be an auction, Saturday, Dec. 30 at 10 a.m. That’ll be for the equipment,” Lovejoy said. “We need to get rid of everything we can.”
Many of the store’s vendors came to take some of the machines, but the store’s freezers and cold cases still have to be sold. “All of it has to go,” he said. From there, he will begin the cleaning process and try to get the store ready for its next stage.
“We’ll see what happens once the auction goes,” he said. “It’s hard to say anything about what’s next because I just don’t have all the answers yet. And there is no magic answer for everything, we’ll just have to see how it goes.”
Reach Michael Williamson at 740-852-1616, ext. 1619.