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Published: Saturday, 3/7/2009

Toledo's Valley Camp Stores Co. unable to stay afloat

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

One of Toledo's oldest and most unique grocery stores - which started in the Great Depression - is no more.

Friday was the final day of business for the Toledo office of Valley Camp Stores Co., which has delivered dry goods, meat, produce, and even engine parts to visiting freighters since 1932.

Known as a ship's chandlery, Valley Camp employees spent decades hauling bulk food and supplies down to the ships docked at the Port of Toledo, first in a large launch, and more recently, dockside. It's been the only such chandlery in Toledo for many years.

"It's a shame. There's a lot of maritime history here," said Patrick Ryan, owner of Beacon Hausheer Marine Co. of Lakewood, Ohio, which bought Valley Camp six years ago and operates a ship's chandlery in Cleveland. "There just isn't enough traffic here anymore."

According to the Lake Carriers Association, the trade group representing the 63 U.S.-flagged lake freighters plying the Great Lakes, cargo tonnages have dropped significantly as the economic crisis rages through the region.

In January, U.S.-flagged cargo movement on the Great Lakes fell below 1 million net tons for the first time since the recession of the mid-1980s. Overall tonnage of cargo dropped more than 10 percent last year at the Port of Toledo, according to a recent report.

"Nobody is scrapping ships, so when the economy gets going again, the fleet will come back," said Glen Nekvasil, association vice president, said. "We do have a number of vessels that don't have sail dates yet for this year."

In decades past, an entire industry grew up around servicing the lake and ocean freighters that brought bulk and finished goods to the Port of Toledo. So-called "bumboats," - small craft that would moor alongside the freighters to sell various sundries such as candy and cigarettes to sailors - were commonplace in years past, including one operated by former Toledo Mayor Harry Kessler in the 1950s.

However, the service that Valley Camp and other chandleries provided was different, and included delivering such things as engine parts to ships that had ordered them.

At one point, Valley Camp had about 30 employees. When it closed yesterday, it was down to just three.

"When I started here in 1985, we would see between three and five ships over a weekend, and usually, we'd take food down to three to four of them," said David Meyer, a longtime employee.

"Now, we're lucky if we're looking at one or two ships a month."

The business closing will have no effect on port operations, said Carla Firestone, spokesman for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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