Emigration Market's closing 'sad' for many

Published March 23, 2010 6:50 pm
Economy » Slow sales hurt grocer, says owner, councilman Martin.
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Susan Belliston remembers tagging along as a child with her grandmother to pick up groceries at Emigration Market.

On Tuesday, she dabbed away tears as she thought about the next month's closing of the locally owned market on Salt Lake City's east side.

"It's so sad. The people who work here are my friends."

The market at 1706 E. 1300 South has been in operation since World War II but will close April 3, apparently the victim in recent years of declining sales that have given way to larger and larger losses.

"It has been extremely frustrating for all of us ... as it seemed the harder we tried to improve business, the worse it became," co-owner J.T. Martin said in a statement Tuesday. He could not be reached for further comment.

Martin, a Salt Lake City councilman whose family has owned the market for more than a decade, blamed the closing on the economic downturn and increased competition from large chain stores. Many of the latter have slashed prices during the recession as a way to lure increasingly price-conscious shoppers.

Emigration Market, which opened in 1942 and offered perks reminiscent of older times, couldn't compete.

Longtime customers had running tabs, due monthly. Children often stopped by the market on their way home from school, putting the cost of snacks, deli sandwiches and drinks on their parents' bills.

Another attraction was selection. "There's so many things I can't get at other stores," said Karen Turner, who shops weekly or once a month for specialty items such as chopped fresh ginger, almond rice pudding, goat's milk yogurt and chicken sausage.

Shopper Carol Prince, said she was drawn to the baked goods and imported cheeses.

In his statement, Martin said losses at the market "have been great and in the recent months staggering." But Tuesday, a going-out-of-business sale that offered discounts of 20 percent attracted large numbers of shoppers who parked along the street and filled the parking lot.

A cafe within the grocery store closed Monday. The market is shortening hours of operation, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., until it closes April 3.

In announcing the closing, Martin did not mention two other factors that he has said previously that have negatively affected the market. He has cited his criticism in 2007 of the adult novelty shop Blue Boutique and his support for Westminster College's takeover of the vacant Garfield School as reasons for what he said was an ongoing boycott of the market.

The building that houses the grocery is owned by Martin and his wife, Kimberly. According to the statement, they are conducting a market study to see what type of businesses could do well on the site.

For neighbor Joni Dykstra, who has shopped at Emigration for 20 years and even launched a "Save Emigration Market" Facebook page several months ago after hearing about its problems, the loss of the store is one thing. She also worries "about the 50 employees -- what are they going to do? With unemployment the way it is, it's not as if they can just go out and find another job."

The future is uncertain for kitchen manager Guillermo Estrada, who has worked at the market for six years. "I'll start looking. There's going to be something for me, somewhere down the road."

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