DECATUR — County Market at 1450 E. Pershing Road will close, with the owner eventually hoping to redevelop the property as a Save-a-Lot store, parent company Niemann Foods spokesman Gerry Kettler said Wednesday.
Kettler said the company will begin selling the stock for the Pershing Road store on the city's north side starting next week, and it will close in the coming months.
He said the company had no timeline for the redevelopment. The fuel center in front of the grocery store on Pershing Road will remain open.
"Unfortunately, retail is going through a great deal of transition," Kettler said in a phone interview. "Decatur is losing population, and it’s just a very tough retail situation. We feel perhaps Save-a-Lot would better fit that location."
The announcement affects about 40 employees. Kettler said they are being offered opportunities to work at other Niemann Foods stores in Central Illinois.
Those include the Save-a-Lot stores at 1175 W. Grand Ave. and 2280 E. William St. in Decatur.
The Decatur announcement comes after Kroger said it was closing its Fairview Plaza store on the city's west side at the end of the month, affecting 95 workers. Officials said the location was under-performing.
About 100 community members gathered Tuesday to protest that closure. Kroger also said it plans to close its only store in Lincoln.
The County Market announcement came as a surprise to some shoppers at the store on Wednesday, such as Wayne Bailey, who said he comes there all the time.
"I hate to see it close," said Bailey, who remembers visiting the store with his family years ago, even though they lived in Blue Mound.
Pam Jenkins was another shopper surprised to hear the news. She said she visits County Market once or twice a week.
On Wednesday, she had just visited the store two days earlier and had come back for more groceries.
County Market is the nearest grocery store for Jenkins and her family. She said others are too far to keep her food fresh and at the same temperature.
"By the time you get all your stuff and get back home, if it's cold, then it is getting warm, and it's getting warm if it's cold," she said.
The store in February was closed by the Macon County Health Department after health inspectors found what they described as a severe rodent infestation. It reopened several days later after store employees sanitized all the shelving and took other steps to become in compliance with health codes.
Kettler said Wednesday that the issues highlighted by the health department report hadn't played a role in the decision to close the store.
"The decision is based on economics," he said.
Asked whether the temporary closure and any related negative publicity had hurt the store's revenue, Kettler said it may have had an effect, "but the bigger thing is the economic climate that we’re in right now."
The company in September announced the Grand Avenue County Market would become a Save-a-Lot store. The 38,000-square-foot had cost about $15 million to build and had its grand opening on Jan. 21, 2015.
Nieman Foods has stores in Illinois, Missouri and Indiana. The company opened its first grocery store in Quincy in 1917.
The company earlier this month announced it was converting a Shop 'n Save in Springfield to a County Market.
While Niemann Foods is not closing any other stores, Kettler said the situation with Decatur's County Market and Kroger stores reflects industry challenges. As populations in some communities decline, the number of places where groceries are sold has not.
"Every place is selling groceries right now — dollar stores, here, there, everywhere," he said. "You can get milk and chips and all that type of stuff everywhere now."
Allison Petty of the Herald & Review contributed to this story.