Sam Jabro purchased and reopened the former FoodTown stores in Lambertville and downtown Temperance and says he has been welcomed with open arms by the communities.
Diane Hires / Blade Enlarge
TEMPERANCE - A year ago this month, Sam Jabro doubled down an admittedly risky bet on Bedford Township.
And while it may never pay off like hitting a longshot in Las Vegas, the man who reopened the township's two FoodTown stores after they abruptly closed said he couldn't be happier about his wager on a community he knew nothing about.
"I've never seen a town like this," said the 40-year-old Mr. Jabro, who still lives in Oakland County north of Detroit.
"Bedford is a great small-town community. To this day, I still get a lot of people coming in, hugging me, thanking me for keeping the stores open. They've just welcomed me with open arms."
It was in February 2004 that Mr. Jabro - who had purchased and reopened the FoodTown store in Lambertville six months earlier - agreed to repeat the process in downtown Temperance, much to the delight of township residents and elected officials who did all they could to keep the small grocery store viable.
Gail Keane, chairwoman of the Temperance Action Committee, a group dedicated to revitalizing the central business district of the unincorporated village, said the outlook was bleak before Mr. Jabro agreed to buy and reopen the FoodTown store in Temperance.
"The grocery store being gone was a definite statement that the town was dying," Mrs. Keane said.
"It wasn't a lack of people. It was a lack of things to [anchor] the town. When the grocery store closed, there was nothing left [that people went to on a daily basis]. We lost that purpose in our town.
"There are those cornerstones that you have to have in town in order to attract people to your town in order for other businesses to feed off of it."
Mrs. Keane praised Mr. Jabro for reopening the stores and for working to become part of the community.
"I think Sam has done a good job. He's worked with us and we've worked with him. He took a risk on us, and I think it's paid off for him and for us," Mrs. Keane said.
For Mr. Jabro, the decisions to purchase each store was far less emotional, at least at first.
"Initially, when I came in, I thought it would be just a regular investment. Just buy a supermarket and take it from there," he said.
"I owned two other supermarkets (in Oakland County) and I wanted to expand. I didn't know any of the background about what had happened [with former owner Spartan Stores]."
He reopened the Lambertville store in August 2003, a brave move considering that Kroger had a huge store just a few hundred yards away.
But Mr. Jabro said he had a belief that enough people would appreciate a more intimate place to purchase their groceries that he could make a go of it.
He said both stores have returned to the customer volume levels they had before Spartan pulled out, even though there is plenty of room for improvement.
The grocery business, in general, operates on a margin of 1 percent or less, so it's a constant struggle to make sure customers have what they need and want and get the kind of service that keeps them coming back.
"What I like about the customers here is that they're knowledgeable.
"They understand that it's a tough business, and they do give me the business because they understand what it takes," Mr. Jabro said.
"Bedford is just different from any other community I've seen. It's the real small town community feeling that you hear people talk about," Mr. Jabro said.
"People here are good neighbors; they care about each other. It reminds me of [how life was] 20 or 30 years ago."