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Published: Tuesday, 12/7/2004

Churchill's Monclova store to close

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
The Briarfield Blvd. site is to be out of business by Jan. 15. The Briarfield Blvd. site is to be out of business by Jan. 15.
LONG / BLADE Enlarge

After 18 months of losing money, Churchill's Super Markets Inc. said yesterday it will close by Jan. 15 its innovative, but unsuccessful, gourmet store in Monclova Township.

The company's board of directors decided over the weekend that the 22,000-square-foot store on Briarfield Boulevard just south of Salisbury Road was a concept customers would never fully embrace and a turnaround is unlikely.

"We made as many changes as we could, but after talking to the suppliers and others we felt it had reached the maximum number of sales. It was not going to be enough to keep it going," said Bob Colwell, president of Churchill's and a member of the board.

The Briarfield store has about 45 employees, most of whom are part-time.

Mr. Colwell would not disclose sales figures, but he said the store had not made money since it opened in May, 2003.

Grocery consultants speculated that the store cost $10 million to $15 million. It opened to fanfare and featured a cooking stage, specialty bakery, wine-tasting bar, sushi bar, and shelves of gourmet products.

The move will leave the area with just one Churchill's, on Central Avenue in Toledo. The company sold three of its four area stores to Farmer Jack nearly four years ago.

Although the Monclova store had been redesigned since September, at a cost of $200,000, Mr. Colwell said disappointing sales for the third quarter ending in November convinced the company's directors there was little reason to hold out hope.

Churchill's former store in Perrysburg, which was one of the three sold to Farmer Jack in 2001, also started as a big money loser, Mr. Colwell said, but trends in the first two years showed that the store could improve. No such trends were evident for the Briarfield store, he added.

"It has been operating at a loss for nearly two years and it was unable to meet the expectations," he said. "It's a nice store. We just couldn't make it work."

Since December, 2003, the Briarfield store had been under the direction of Walt Churchill, Jr., who had been out of Churchill's day-to-day operations since the Farmer Jack sale but had returned to help turn the store around.

Mr. Churchill lowered the store's prices, changed personnel, and oversaw a redesign this fall, which included expanding aisles, moving a wine section, and expanding the meat section.

To pay for the redesign, the company had to sell land it owned near Bancroft Street and Holland-Sylvania Road.

Still, the changes had no significant effect.

"They lost a ton of money and they tried to turn it around," Mr. Churchill said. "It didn't happen and the board felt that before it builds up more in the accounts payable, it was better to close it."

Mr. Colwell said the Briarfield store is owned by a partnership, Kit Lane LLC, that includes Churchill's and 11 other investors. The group plans to sell the building.

Churchill's will keep its Central Avenue store and has looked at ways to redesign or perhaps even expand it, he said.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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