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Longtime Toledo Churchill's store to close

Tax woes prompt Churchill's to sell; 27 workers to lose jobs


Churchill's grocery store building on Central Avenue.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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Churchill's Super Market, which has served West Toledo from its store at Central Avenue and Cheltenham Road for 65 years, is closing in the beginning of September, the victim of an ongoing tax problem.

"The official date hasn't been set, but we won't be open after the first weekend of September," said Bob Colwell, president of Churchill's Super Market Inc.

"We have no additional trucks coming in, and right now we're giving 10 percent off on everything in the store. Once everything is gone, it's gone, and I can't imagine it lasting more than a week," he said.

The store, which began as a meat storage locker in 1947 and became a neighborhood grocery store in 1951, is being sold, and the new owner plans to use the 1.2-acre site and either occupy or replace the 10,000-square-foot building.

Mr. Colwell would not disclose the new owner and said a final contract for the sale had not been signed. However, the sale has been tentatively approved by both sides and is all but completed. A sale price was not disclosed, but in July Churchill's had listed the propertyat 2845 West Central Ave. for $615,000.

Mr. Colwell, who is a member of the Churchill family and a great-grandson of the store's co-founder, said the family "has been happy to serve the community for so long.

"Everybody wished we could have done something to save it. It just didn't happen," he said. "But we really appreciate all the support the neighborhood has given us all these years."

The closing will mark the end of the 95-year-old Churchill's Super Markets chain, which was founded by brothers Joseph and James Churchill, who after growing up on a family farm opened their first Toledo grocery store at Detroit and Woodruff avenues in 1917.

Joseph's son, the late Gen. Walter A. Churchill, expanded the business into a respected Toledo-area name. The general's son, Walter A. Churchill, Jr., operates his own stores, Walt Churchill's Markets, in Perrysburg and Maumee, and a family trust — the Walter A. Churchill, Sr., Trust — owns Churchill's Super Markets Inc. and the West Toledo store.

The general's daughter, Carolyn Colwell, is a member of the trust, as is her husband, Lynn, and their son Bob.

Bob Colwell said the store on West Central had about five full-time employees, three of whom will be employed by Walt, Jr., at his area stores. Twenty-five part-time employees will be laid off permanently when the store closes.

The West Toledo store's plight was tied to a tax burden the family incurred from the 2000 sale of three area Churchill's Super Markets to Farmer Jack Supermarkets, Mr. Colwell said.

Michigan-based Farmer Jack, which was a subsidiary of A&P Supermarkets, had signed long-term leases for the stores, which it eventually closed in 2004 and 2005 along with three other area stores it had purchased.

Although it closed the stores, it still made lease payments to the Churchill trust, which trust members used to pay taxes on the vacant supermarket properties. However, when A&P filed bankruptcy in 2010, the lease payments ceased, putting the Churchill trust in financial difficulty.

"When A&P went bankrupt, that stopped the trust from being able to make some of the tax payments. They were trying to work something out with the IRS," Mr. Colwell said.

"The lease payments weren't coming in, so the main beneficiaries of the trust decided they were going to sell the store. Nobody's happy about it, believe me. It wasn't something anybody wanted to do," he said. "I'm quite confident that if the tax burden would have been resolved the store would never have been sold."

Mr. Churchill said he had fond memories of working 17 years, beginning in high school, at the West Toledo store for his father, General Churchill,

"I helped cut down a 38-inch [diameter] elm tree on the corner of the property, and I put in all the lockers in the freezer room," he said. Eventually, he built a house next to the store.

"It had a long history and good customers that enjoyed shopping there. It had a heyday — that was our fourth store," Mr. Churchill said. "When you look at the length it's been open, it's been open longer than any of our stores ever were."

"When we opened as a store in 1951, we were still quite small. But we did a lot of business in that store," Mr. Churchill said. "We sold a lot of show cattle and lamb and all that."

Mr. Churchill said the tax burden wasn't the entire reason for closing the store, "but that was certainly helpful in making the decision."

The West Toledo store had reached a crossroads, he said. "The biggest problem is that it was either time to remodel or move out of that location, and all the factors came together that forced us to make this decision. It was kind of a perfect storm, to use an expression," Mr. Churchill said. "We hate to leave that, but I'm busy with my own … stores," he added.

Contact Jon Chavez at: or 419-724-6128.

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