John Turnage takes a look at the partially bare shelves Wednesday afternoon inside Crysler Thriftway while forming his response on how the store’s closing is affecting him.
“It’s kind of heartbreaking, really,” says John, who has owned the Independence neighborhood grocery store since 1989 with his wife, Bobbi. “We’ve been here for 24 years as a family. But, life goes on, I guess.”
Crysler Thriftway, a fixture at 2604 S. Crysler Ave. for more than 50 years, is closing its doors this Saturday. Store hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Most items are 30 percent off, and all sales are final.
Bobbi, John’s wife of 45 years, struggles to find the right words.
“I guess there’s a lot of feeling. There’s a lot of emotion going on,” Bobbi says. “Every morning when we come in and it’s a little more bare and a little more bare, there’s some feelings there. I don’t know if I’m sad. I’m a little sad. There’s a lot of things going on.”
The Passantino family, owner of Sunfresh at 23rd Street and Sterling Avenue, bought Crysler Thriftway, but that didn’t necessarily mean the Turnages had to close up, Bobbi and John say.
“It was our decision,” Bobbi says. “It was just that time in our lives.”
Several factors went into the decision to close, an announcement that took place about two weeks ago.
Despite the loyal customer base, business had slowed. Also, in April 2011, Bobbi’s and John’s son Stephen, then the store’s manager, died suddenly in his sleep one night after work. He was 33 years old.
“Since then, it hasn’t been the same,” John says.
“It’s time to move on,” Bobbi adds.
Bobbi and John worked to find new jobs or at least provide references for about 20 Crysler Thriftway employees. Their daughter, Kim Sutherland, and their oldest son, Aaron Turnage, also played a role in the grocery store throughout their lives. Aaron continues to manage the family’s remaining grocery store in Peculiar, Mo.
Even the vendors are sad. When Tad Gould became an account manager for Belfonte nine years ago, Crysler Thriftway was his first account in a list that would grow to include 40 stores around the metropolitan area.
“Coming in to this grocery store was never a job,” Gould says. “Not too many people get paid to spend time with people who they really care about.”
Shock and disbelief were among the emotions that Murray Brookman felt when he learned his employer of six years would close its doors. For Brookman, the night manager at Crysler Thriftway, it’s been more than just a job.
Page 2 of 3 - “This store has been a big part of all of our lives,” he says. “It wasn’t just a job – it was dedication and loyalty to the family. You don’t come in an hour-and-a-half early to a job because it’s just a job. It’s because of people like Bobbi and John.”
Tears filled Rhonda McElwee’s eyes in reflecting upon Crysler Thriftway. Above all else, she’ll miss the people, both the employees and the customers.
“Everything,” McElwee says of what she enjoyed about her office manager job of 17 years. “I’ve been through a lot in this store – a lot. It’s family. John and Bobbie have been Mom and Dad for a long time.”
The loyal customer base kept Crysler Thriftway in business for a long time, McElwee says, with Bobbi adding that many older customers often came into the store as a social experience.
“They actually become a part of your life, when you see them every day,” McElwee says.
In 1989, John and another business partner owned a grocery store in Kansas City. Bobbi and John wanted to branch out a bit on their own, so they purchased what later become Crysler Thriftway.
Throughout the years, the store was known by several names, including United Super. The Turnages named the store Super Price Foods, and then Foodland before finally settling on Crysler Thriftway sometime around 1993.
“It’s been good,” Bobbi says. “We’ve made a lot of friends, as far as customers, and it’s been a good run for us.”
Business has remained strong, especially from the neighborhood, John says, but like most industries, the store felt the weight of the recession. People don’t buy the same products they used to, and big-box stores tend to grab their share of customers.
“For the most part, we’ve done well here in the neighborhood,” Bobbi says. “Instead of buying steaks, though, people buy hamburger meat. Everybody’s been affected.”
A petite woman interrupts the conversation to give Bobbi a hug. Bobbi offers a brief explanation for the store’s closing.
“We’ve been shedding a lot of tears around here the past few days,” Bobbi says. “It’s just one of those things.”
The woman, Lois Gross, lives a few blocks from Crysler Thriftway. She’s shopped at the grocery store for 15 years, mostly because of its convenient location, she says.
“My heart dropped,” Gross says of her response upon hearing of the store’s closing. “I’m real sad because it’s a handy neighborhood store, and everybody’s very friendly.”
Convenience also played a factor in Mary Jo Stayton’s choosing Crysler Thriftway as a regular grocery store. Although she’s moved to 37th Street, Stayton used to live just across the street from Crysler Thriftway and has shopped there for 20 years.
Page 3 of 3 - But there’s another reason Stayton liked the grocery store.
“I was raised in a small-town,” she says, smiling, “so I love the small-town feel.”
As she finishes that statement, an acquaintance of Stayton’s embraces her in a hug and the two exchange greetings.
“You’re the second person I’ve hugged in this store today,” the woman says to Stayton.
“Is that right?” Stayton says. “Wonders what a closing store will do for you.”
The Turnages say they aren’t sure of what the new owners’ plans are for the building once the store closes. Stayton says she’s saddened to think of the empty structure and how it’ll affect the area.
“I think neighborhood businesses are the way to go, and they’re disappearing,” she says. “Even though I don’t know the names of the workers necessarily, I like seeing the same faces behind the counters.”
Like Stayton and a handful of other customers, Gross walked up and down the aisles Wednesday afternoon, placing a few items in her cart. She even took the time to “face out” one of the items correctly on its shelf.
She isn’t quite ready to say goodbye just yet. She has through Saturday evening to do that.
“I’ll probably come in one more time,” Gross says.