Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Grocer Closing after 68 Years; Johnny's, like Other Small Specialty Grocers, Can No Longer Compete with Chains

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Grocer Closing after 68 Years; Johnny's, like Other Small Specialty Grocers, Can No Longer Compete with Chains

Article excerpt

Robert Appel doesn't see too well these days.

So the 91-year-old likes to get his groceries from Johnny's Market in Sappington, where he already knows where everything is located after shopping there for so many years.

When he learned on Thursday that the store is closing in October, his face dropped. But he said he wasn't surprised given the competition from larger chains.

"I wondered when they would close," he said. "The little guy doesn't have a chance anymore."

For nearly 68 years, Johnny's Market has been ringing up groceries in south St. Louis County. Over the years, the store, located near the corner of Gravois and Sappington, has become known for its crab drip, the meat department and a large liquor selection.

But Debbie Loeffelman, 61, the daughter of the original owners, told the store's 30 to 40 employees earlier this week that she can no longer afford to keep the store going amid declining sales, an aging customer base and competition coming from all sides.

"You can buy food anywhere now - unfortunately," she said, noting that everyone from the Walgreens across the street to convenience stores now sell some groceries. "And a lot of my older customers in the neighborhood have died in the last year."

The younger generation has a different lifestyle, she said. For one, they are more used to shopping at chains like Schnucks and Shop 'n Save.

"And they don't cook necessarily," she said. "They don't sit down for a meal at 5 o'clock the way I did growing up."

People still shop, she added.

"But you need more than just a little basket with $30 in it," she said. "You need to have a cart full of groceries. You need to have volume to make it work because the grocery business is low margins."

Johnny's isn't the only one to fold amid economic and industry pressures. Nearby Sappington Farmers' Market is closing this week after filing for bankruptcy in December.

There have been plenty of tight times in the past, too, Loeffelman said.

"But we didn't have any more miracles left - miracles like $50,000 from a Powerball ticket."

That came in 2003 when a lottery ticket worth $21 million was purchased from her store. …

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