Thursday, August 16, 2001

IGA store prepares to close in Sept.

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] The IGA on Alexandria Pike is closing.
(Patrick Reddy photos)
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        FORT THOMAS — Paul Stine has been shopping at the store on U.S. 27 for 42 years, often walking the half-mile from his Grant Street home.

        At first it was an Albers store. For more than 20 years it's been an IGA. But after Labor Day, it won't be anything.

        Unable to compete with larger grocers while facing a dwindling customer base, Fort Thomas IGA owner Carl Weinrich plans to close the grocery store by Labor Day.

        “It's sad to see it go,” said Mr. Stine, 67. “I'm in there all the time for quick trips because the IGA is so close. I feel like I've been going in there forever.”

        The store is the last IGA in Northern Kentucky. Ten years ago there were 17 IGA stores in the region. But over the last decade the stores have either been bought up by larger competitors or closed.

        “We tried to make it,” said Mr. Weinrich, who bought the store three years ago. He's been in the grocery and wholesale food business for more than 30 years.

[photo] Owner Carl Weinrich said competition is forcing him to close.
(Patrick Reddy photos)
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        “But we just couldn't keep our heads afloat. I hate that we have to do this for our customers, and for our (40) employees. It's just a shame ... we can't keep it going,” he said.

        Stores such as Kroger and Meijer are attracting his customers, Mr. Weinrich said. And with no other IGAs in the area, it has become harder for the store to receive products from wholesalers.

        “Things just kind of stacked up against us,” he said. “I just couldn't compete any longer.”

        Based in Chicago, IGA (Independent Grocers Alliance) is an organization of more than 4,000 independently owned stores around the world with sales of more than $21 billion annually.

        By joining the alliance, stores not part of a chain operate almost as franchises. They all carry the IGA name and come together to buy from the same group of wholesalers.

        The stores also jointly market and advertise under the IGA banner.

        But as IGA stores began closing, the existing stores lost the advantages of common purchasing and marketing.

        Rumors of the store's demise began swirling in June, when Remke Markets, based in Covington, bought the Newport IGA. Remke also bought IGA stores in Independence and Crescent Springs.

        Remke now operates seven stores — six in Northern Kentucky and one in the Hamilton County suburb of Deer Park.

        Last month the Hader Hardware store next door to IGA shut down.

        “I think a lot of people figured IGA was next after Hader closed,” said Mr. Stine. He said many people — himself included — went to larger stores because the prices were lower than those at Hader and IGA.

        Southwest Ohio remains a strong market for IGA, with 20 stores in Hamilton, Butler and Clermont counties. In Kentucky, 55 IGA stores remain.

        Mr. Weinrich said he plans some close-out sales. He said he wanted to thank the customers who have been loyal to his store.

        “I feel for the people who come in all the time,” he said.


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