Supermarkets have come and gone all over Peoria over the decades. Fresh Market’s imminent departure from Westlake Shopping Center is no different.
Fresh Market officials announced last week their Peoria outlet was among 15 stores that are closing, including four in Illinois. The high-end grocery has been undergoing financial strains in recent years, particularly because of competition from Whole Foods, whose product line and demographic appeal are similar to Fresh Market’s.
Although Whole Foods has been rumored off and on to be considering a Peoria location, that’s hasn’t come to pass. Fresh Market’s impending closure doesn’t appear to be a reflection, necessarily, of some endemic-to-Peoria problem.
Fresh Market also is closing its store in Normal, which is about as suburban and high income as you can get in downstate Illinois. The suburban-Chicago locations that are closing, in Glen Ellyn and Lincolnshire, aren’t exactly downtrodden, either.
The closure of any large retail business isn’t good. Peoria has seen a lot of those lately. But Fresh Market isn’t leaving a supermarket void in North Peoria the way Kroger might have on the East Bluff and in Limestone Township when it closed two stores earlier this year.
In 2010, when Fresh Market opened, so did a Hy-Vee grocery not too terribly distant, at Sheridan Village shopping center. Since then, Hy-Vee has added another Peoria location, near The Shoppes at Grand Prairie at the northwest edge of town.
Schnucks also doubled its Peoria supermarket presence. A store along Knoxville Avenue in Far North Peoria joined the Schnucks in operation at Glen Avenue and University Street, about a long par 5 from the Sheridan Village Hy-Vee.
Include a couple of long-extant Kroger stores and, in short, there is far from a shortage of places north of War Memorial Drive to purchase soup to nuts, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables.
That the newer stores also carry specialty items, including organic foods, at a competitive price didn’t help Fresh Market. Its debut in Peoria was a nice get at the time. But like a lot of other businesses these days, Fresh Market might not have kept up with the times.
Now it’s soon to be a local memory, although perhaps not as cherished as long-gone supermarkets of yore. After all, the Fresh Market location was almost in the same Westlake spot as another grocery, Randall’s, whose heyday was three decades ago.
Anybody remember Eagle? John Bee? How about Thompson Food Basket and its weekly cash drawing with Rollie Keith on WMBD-TV?
Ever shop at Ben Schwartz IGA, especially the stately one atop the hill at the southeast corner of Glen Avenue and Sheridan Road? Bergan High School used to be right across the street.
Times change, as do scholastic populations and shopping patterns.
More important than supermarket availability has become Westlake viability.
The Fresh Market vacancy is another blow to that center, on top of the recent closings of Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us.
Westlake developer Les Cohen has transformed his property from marginal in store selection and appearance to appealing on both counts. He has succeeded in filling previous vacancies. Filling the latest ones in the current retail climate is going to be tough.
But if Cohen can engineer a resurrection of Stafford’s Dairy or a return of A&P, that might be the ultimate grocery coup.
Nick Vlahos writes "Nick in the Morning." He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @VlahosNick.