St. Michaels con­fused about ACME clo­sure

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE - By CHRIS POLK cpolk@star­dem.com

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.

BY CHRIS POLK/CPOLK@STAR­DEM.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.

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