St. Michaels confused about ACME closure
ST. MICHAELS — The town will lose its most central grocery store in less than a month, it was announced last week, and residents are scratching their heads over what can be done. It is the only supermarket-type food store in the business district.
The ACME store at 114 S. Talbot Street will close on Sunday, October 8, according to town commissioners, who faced a packed meeting room of concerned citizens during their monthly legislative meeting on September 13.
“A lot of people in our community have relied on that store, to walk to it to buy groceries,” Commission President William Boos said, repeating concerns he had been hearing all week from the public.
“Because they either don’t have the transport necessary or whatever. There’s a lot of folks who walk to that store, and that will no longer be possible,” he said.
The last remaining grocer y store in the area that will be open daily is Graul’s
Market, which is located outside of downtown, to the southeast of St. Michaels.
According to land records, the ACME building and property is owned by the West Talbot Improvement Association and was assessed at $498,467 as of July 1.
The building was built in 1959 and is 14,960 square feet, zoned commercial, on 36,120 square feet of property.
Former St. Michaels commissioner Ann Borders said the West Talbot Improvement Association was formed by a group of citizens to put a grocery store in that building over 30 years ago.
She said there are 75 people in the association, all share-holders. She said there are 4,112 shares and that she personally owns 6 shares, giving her 6 votes.
“They had a sweet rental agreement with the ACME,” she said. “And when that 30year contract was up, they had options.”
The ACME corporation hinted that a closing may be imminent “a while back,” according to Boos, but he said they had not been at liberty to tell the public about it.
Early last week the ACME corporation released a statement, quoting Chris Ellis, communications and government relations manager for ACME, who said real estate considerations drove ACME’s decision to close the St. Michaels location.
Ellis said the corporation was focusing on growing business and reinvesting their resources into new stores, including a new location in Philadelphia.
They are remodeling stores, he wrote, and are expanding offerings of beer and wine in Pennsylvania and including in-store Starbucks locations.
“My understanding is, ACME made a decision and it was irrevocable,” St. Michaels Commissioner Roy Myers said. “They were leaving and there was nothing we could do about it. And there was nothing the current owners were going to do about it.”
“I’ve heard there is a rumor that the town is buying it and will do something with it,” Boos said. “There is absolutely no truth in that.”
There is someone who has a contract to buy the building and property, however.
Bob Hockaday, co-owner of Guilford & Company, a store that specializes in antique and estate jewelry from the 19th and 20th centuries, has put in a bid to buy the property. His store is located across the street from the ACME.
The contract is currently in the “due diligence” period.
“I think we are very lucky now that we have a local developer that lives in this town that is very interested in keeping this going,” Myers said. “We have an excellent person that has started a contract.”
“He only got involved once the ACME said they were out, and it was a done deal,” Myers said.
“That building is not owned by the ACME store and yes, there is a contract out on it,” Borders said. “It’s not really a done deal, Roy,” she said.
“The stockholders have not been notified, the stockholders must be notified, there will be a stockholders’ meeting and it will take twothirds of a vote of the stockholders to sell that building,” she said. “So it’s not a done deal.”
“I appreciate the information,” Myers said. “You have more information than we do.”
Many at the meeting expressed their belief that the local central supermarket is integral to the town.
“I’ve got to agree with you here,” former commissioner Tad duPont said. “That store is really the heart and soul of the town.”
He said he took it upon himself to talk to the ACME store morning manager, asking her what percentage of beer and wine sales was the store’s profits, and what percentage was food stamps of the profits at ACME.
DuPont said 25 percent of the sales at ACME were from beer and wine sales.
“Between Morgan’s, Higgins, the maritime museum — I don’t know how many boats full of people, but there’s a lot of people who come to town,” he said. “And they use that store.”
He said he had a friend who comes by boat regularly, and she told him they provisioned their boat from the ACME store in St. Michaels.
He said profits from the use of food stamps at ACME ranged “in the neighborhood of forty percent.”
“Forty percent,” duPont said, referring to senior citizens, the disabled and those with modest incomes. “Most of it is on the north western side of our town.”
“There is very limited opportunity for that piece of our community to go elsewhere,” he said.
He said he also went to Graul’s Market, outside of the town’s business district to the southeast, and asked the same questions.
While he was not able to get percentages for beer and wine sales, he said the manager told him that food stamps accounted for ten percent or less of the store’s profits.
“I work as a developer,” duPont said. “I totally understand the path if that has to be taken — then that’s probably the best one we have.”
“But I think we need to make a huge attempt to right this thing and keep some type of active market here,” he said. “Because if not, the demographics and how this town operates will be significantly changed.”
“Not a lot of people understand what the West Talbot Association is all about,” Glenn Albrecht said.
“They were a very progressive operation and independent to make sure there was a store here.
“They really valued that the older members of our society needed a place to get to for food.”
“This is a big deal,” Albrecht said. “I would really like to see the town commissioners get a little more serious about trying to work this, not just sort of let it happen.”
Boos said they had reached out to folks in the senior center at Hamilton Village, the local housing authorities, the community center and Rev. William Wallace, pastor at Union United Methodist Church.
“We’ve tried to reach out to folks most instantly and egregiously affected by this,” Boos said. “And we’ve just tried to bring them together and maybe come up with some solutions.”
He said that Del. Johnny Mautz, R-37B-Talbot, had gotten in contact with Delmarva Community Transit, and transportation and town officials were to meet Friday, Sept. 15 on the possibility of running a shuttle or bus line from the town’s business district to at least Graul’s Market.
“We have a whole bunch of people coming in,” Boos said. “And this is just the beginning. When I say we, we are nothing but facilitators. We are not involved with this.”
“When you get right down to it, this is a private property issue,” he said. “But there is a certain responsibility. When you get to it, we all feel obligated to it. It’s a small community, a lot of stakeholders at play here.”
The St. Michaels ACME employs 15 people. Boos said that the ACME corporation human resources department was working on having those people placed in other stores. The closest ACME store is in Easton.
“Granted, this grocery store has decided to leave,” Borders said. “When you say you have done everything that you think is appropriate for the town — and the answer is getting a bus.”
“There are tax incentives,” Borders said, adding that town taxes had increased 6 cents recently, and she would rather see it used some other way than fixing the streets.
Myers said that the ACME was paying about $2,500 in taxes per year to the town, and “the tax incentives are almost zero.”
Boos also said there was no truth in another rumor going around — that the property will be turned into a multistoried parking facility.
He said that Hockaday’s plans were not formed yet, “he is just getting his feet on the ground” and the contract is in due diligence.
Boos said he did not think a parking facility would “even be remotely possible.”
For more information on St. Michaels government, visit townofstmichaels.com.
St. Michaels will lose its most central grocery store in less than a month, it was announced last week. Residents protested the closure last week at the Commissioners of St. Michaels meeting.