WEST UNION, Ohio — Brenda Moell was one of several customers waiting to be served at the Deli counter in Prather’s IGA Thursday morning.
Like everyone else she was trying to process the news that her favorite grocery store will be closing before the month’s end.
“I’ve shopped here for years, and my Mom and Dad always shopped here years ago,” she said. “I’m so sad to see this store close.”
Many of Prather’s customers and employees said they shared Moell’s feelings.
“I’m not surprised,” one cashier said. “But, I hoped it would sell, not close.”
The store located at 107 E Walnut Street in West Union was opened 62 years ago in 1957 by Charles W. Prather, who moved it from its original location at the corner of West Main Street, the present location of the Southern Hills Community Bank. Prather’s son, Jay, assumed ownership of the business 12 years ago when his father retired. The younger Prather is also a vice president at the Southern Hills Community Bank.
Prather said the decision to close the store was not made lightly.
“It wasn’t an easy decision ” he said Thursday. “I’ll be 59 years old in July and this will be the first time in my life there won’t be a Prather’s IGA grocery.”
Prather tried to sell the business for a year, but was unable to find a buyer.
He said the grocery store started losing money after a botched remodel of the store’s freezer section.
“We took hit after hit, and loss after loss in our freezer section,” Prather said. “The price for fixing the remodel was going to be $200,000 more. There’s no way I could ever make that back on frozen food sales, the margin is too small in the grocery business, and losses are a killer. It just stopped us in our tracks. That’s what led to my decision. It was tough on our family, but it was time, it had to be done, the decision had to be made.”
He said his greatest concern at this point is for his nearly 40 employees.
“We have the most dedicated people, they’ve stuck with us, and not only the workers, but also the shoppers,” he said. “I cannot say thank you enough to the people who shopped in our store and supported us over the years.”
Eric Rabe, a close friend of Prather’s, and owner of four grocery stores including the Georgetown, Ohio IGA, has offered to hire some of the West Union store’s laid off employees, and possibly even deliver groceries to West Union from his Georgetown store one day a week.
While the grocery will close Wednesday, March 27, the building may not remain empty for long.
According to Adams County Commissioner Ty Pell, the county is interested in leasing the property from Prather with an option to buy.
“We need a location for the new Workforce Training Facility and the deal we were trying to make for another building isn’t working out,” Pell said. “Jay came to us and we saw it as an opportunity to have the Workforce Training Center up town in a location with twice the square footage, and more parking, plus we won’t have a building sitting empty in the middle of town.”
While West Union Mayor Ted Grooms called the store’s closing a “devastating loss” for the village, he applauded the commissioners’ decision to consider the 22,000-square-foot building as a possible location for Adams County’s planned Workforce Training Center.
He said he sympathizes with those who are about to lose their jobs.
“They’ve provided a valuable service to our community, and we wish them the best and hope they’re able to find gainful employment,” Grooms said. “We wish the Workforce Training Center all the luck in the world because it is a very necessary operation that will provide a much-needed product for the people in our communities.”
Prather shares his enthusiasm for using the building as a Workforce Training Center.
“It’s a great location one block off the town square and it’s too good of a building to be left sitting empty,” he said. “Even though we haven’t signed any papers yet, it is a relief to me knowing that something my Dad built, that still has his name on a stone laid in the building, could be used to improve our community. Plus, I get the satisfaction of knowing it was a huge part of our lives, and now something new will be there because life goes on.”