One of Grain Valley’s two grocery stores has closed, costing 35 people their jobs and causing a good deal of scorn and speculation on social media.
Grain Valley Market Sunfresh closed Monday, and employees were not given advance notice. The city is looking to help those employees with such things as filing for unemployment benefits, polishing their resumes, and a deferment on city utility bills. Those affected can stop by City Hall during business hours to get that started.
Grain Valley Market says the opening in January of a Price Chopper on the city’s north side took away too much business.
“You know, business is business. If your business isn’t bringing in enough to be sustainable, it’s not going to stay open,” said Devon Lynn, director of marketing for Grain Valley Market.
She added, “Our sales basically dropped to an unsustainable level.”
Sunfresh, coming in 2016, was the latest of several grocery stores in recent years to occupy a spot in the Old Towne Market on Eagles Parkway on the city’s south side.
City Administrator Ryan Hunt said the loss of the store came as a surprise, though there had been rumors.
“You hear rumors,” he said. “You kind of have to sort the wheat from the chaff. That one seemed kind of crazy.”
He said city officials as well as David Ward, who owns Grain Valley Market, thought the Price Chopper wouldn’t cut into business too deeply.
“He said he didn’t really think it was going to have any impact on his store,” Hunt said.
Still, city officials have been trying to counter comments on social media and elsewhere that the city wanted the store to close or that it had unfairly tipped the marketplace in favor of Price Chopper.
“One is not advantaged over the other …” Hunt said. Both Old Towne Market and Grain Valley Marketplace, with Price Chopper, benefit from tax-increment financing, a means of capturing new tax dollars for infrastructure work. Grain Valley Marketplace also is in a community improvement district, with an extra one-cent sales tax, for work related to the development and a neighborhood improvement district, meaning added property taxes, to help pay for the recent upgrade of the Interstate 70/Main Street interchange.
“The truth is the city wanted Sunfresh to succeed just like everybody else did,” Hunt said.
Hunt said he sees politics at play in the closing.
“To me, it seems to be politically motivated, because there is no reason for the city to the fighting with the Wards,” he said.
The city also posted a lengthy statement to address the speculation and criticism, saying, in part, “Our focus in development is never to replace one business with another; it is to add businesses that complement existing businesses so we can spread the costs of service across a wider population and lower taxes for everyone. ... No one wins when a reputable business such as the Grain Valley Market goes out of business.”
Hunt said he has reached out to David Ward to see “what we can do to hit the reset button on this relationship.”
Lynn said it’s too soon to say what’s likely to become of the grocery store space.
“They obviously would look to fill the whole Towne Center open,” she said, referring to the Wards.
Hunt echoed that idea.
“We want to see the shopping center fully developed,” he said. He said Wards have expressed the idea of refinancing that project but did not follow through on issuing new bonds to do that.
The city has had struggles with the other development as well, with Grain Valley Marketplace north of I-70. One developer brought in Casey’s and the movie theater but then stalled, and the city looked for another developer. Hunt said he went to Ward three times, asking him to step in.
“He declined all three offers,” Hunt said.
The city went with another developer, who landed Price Chopper with, officials hope, more to come. A sit-down restaurant, for instance, is a need the community has often expressed.