JOLIET – Certified Warehouse Foods, an independent supermarket with two stores on the East Side since the 1980s, is closing.
Owner Ken Clymer said Monday that he will close both the Jackson Street and Richards Street stores once inventory is sold.
Clymer said he has kept the stores open despite losing money for several years but could do it no longer.
He said the business, which opened in 1981 with a store on Cass Street, had a "good run" because of the customers who supported it over the years.
"I'm very gratified for their past support," Clymer said. "I tried my best, but I can't do it anymore. I love the people on this side of town. They've been fantastic to me. But what else can I do?"
Certified Warehouse Foods filled a vacuum created when other supermarkets left the East Side with its lower-income neighborhoods. Both stores are in buildings formerly occupied by supermarket chains.
But Clymer said the grocery business has become increasingly competitive to the point that he no longer is competing just with other supermarkets.
"Everybody's selling groceries. You go to Menards, and they sell groceries," he said. "They have dollar stores all over the East Side, and they sell groceries. Everybody's getting into the grocery business. We kept getting squeezed and squeezed and squeezed."
The chain supermarkets have not come back to the East Side.
But a growing number of Hispanic groceries have opened. Certified Warehouse Foods original Cass Street site now is occupied by El Ranchito.
Wal-Mart Supercenters have been a big factor in eroding his customer base, Clymer said.
Chain stores at times, he said, are selling a gallon of milk for less than half what he has to pay for it wholesale.
"We're losing money and have been losing money for a number of years," he said. "I've tried to stay on because I've had good employees who have been with us – some for 30 years."
Certified Warehouse Foods moved to the Jackson Street location, a former Kroger store, in 1983. In 1984, the company opened on Richards Street in a building once occupied by A&P.
Joliet Councilwoman Bettye Gavin, who represents a large section of the East Side, said the closing of Certified Warehouse Foods will create "a big void for both locations."
Gavin brought up the Certified Warehouse Foods closing at a meeting of the council's Economic Development Committee, where she urged city staff to pursue food businesses that might be interested in the locations on Jackson and Richards streets.
Clymer said he did not have a set date for closing, since it depends on how long inventory lasts.
"I'm talking to other people who have gone through this, and they say it's usually about 30 days," he said. "I've never done this before."