Thursday, December 18, 2014

Country Mart selling to Price Chopper

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 3/19/2014

April 20 will be Country Mart’s last day in Ottawa.

Gary Jones, co-owner of the grocery store, 2138 S. Princeton Circle Drive, Ottawa, sold Country Mart to Price Chopper, he said.

April 20 will be Country Mart’s last day in Ottawa.

Gary Jones, co-owner of the grocery store, 2138 S. Princeton Circle Drive, Ottawa, sold Country Mart to Price Chopper, he said.

The new Ottawa Price Chopper will be run by the Queen family, which currently owns five other Price Chopper locations in Bonner Springs, Paola, Spring Hill and two locations in Overland Park, according to a press release from Price Chopper. Jim and Barbara Queen opened their first grocery store more than 40 years ago, the release said. Today the business is operated by their children, Barry Queen and wife, Kim, and Jayme Morris and husband, Tommy.

Jones and his business partner, Jim Coddington, bought Country Mart in February 2002, he said, and he has enjoyed his time in Ottawa.

“My wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed it all this time,” Jones said. “The town is supportive of us, and we’re going to miss the people here.”

Price Chopper will obtain the Country Mart location April 21, closing a few days for remodel, but opening again later in the week, the press release from Price Chopper, said.

“Our family has a commitment to the local communities that our stores serve,” Barry Queen said in the release. “We are working toward a smooth transition in Ottawa and want to continue the strong partnership that has existed between the community and the store to this point.”

Jones co-owns three other grocery stores in Kansas City including a Sun Fresh, Apple Market and Thriftway, he said, but he lives in Ottawa. For the time being, Jones said, he and his wife will remain in Ottawa, though he’s not sure how long they will stay.

“Everything’s kind of swirling around right now. I don’t have a clue which way is up today,” Jones said Wednesday afternoon.

He currently has no plans to sell any of his other stores, he said, but when the opportunity came along to sell his Ottawa store, he saw it as a positive for the Ottawa area and its shoppers.

“This is a real plus for the community for a Price Chopper to want to come to Ottawa,” he said. “It says a lot for the community and the surrounding area because I think it’s going to be a win-win for the community.”

Price Chopper plans to hire most, if not all, of the current employees at Country Mart, the press release said.

The grocery store’s sale is the latest in a string of industry changes seen throughout the city’s history. In 1930, Ottawa had 36 neighborhood grocery stores, according to Herald archives.

“At one time, there was one on about every street corner,” the late Don Waymire, a former Franklin County Commissioner and longtime grocery store owner, said in 2011.

But shopping trends changed since the 1930s and the number of grocery stores supported by local consumers dwindled.

“The more things you offer, the fewer stores people need to go to,” Waymire said. “That’s why a lot of little businesses are gone today.”

“If you’re going to criticize anyone, criticize the people,” he said. “The consumer is the one who controls where business is done. If the consumer goes there, somebody will be in business.”

Ottawa’s long list of former grocery stores included a Price Chopper, but the store at 2008 S. Princeton St., which later became the location of Town and Country Supply and then Orscheln Farm and Home, closed in the mid-1990s amid competition from Walmart and other area stores.

Before Jones bought Country Mart in 2002, it was owned by S&S Management, which also operated Apple Market, 901 S. Main St., Ottawa. Apple Market (which previously was a Food Barn store and Safeway before that) closed in 1999, later becoming the home of the Gollier Rehabilitation & Wellness Center, leaving only Country Mart and Walmart to serve hungry shoppers.

“[It] would be a great loss if Country Mart would ever leave us,” Waymire said in 2011. “There’s nothing better than a little competition of prices and products.”

The new Price Chopper will continue the legacy of community involvement for which Jones has been known, the company said.

“Not only will the Queen family provide an outstanding shopping experience but they have proven themselves to be great community supporters,” Casie Broker, Price Chopper marketing director, said.

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