Archive for Saturday, September 29, 2007

De Soto residents sad to see town’s only grocery store close

September 29, 2007


Judy Childers looks to fill her shopping cart from the emptying shelves of Morses&squot; Market in De Soto, which closed Thursday. Childers said the closing of De Soto&squot;s only grocery store "was going to hurt a lot of people."

Judy Childers looks to fill her shopping cart from the emptying shelves of Morses' Market in De Soto, which closed Thursday. Childers said the closing of De Soto's only grocery store "was going to hurt a lot of people."

The phone rang steadily Monday morning at Morses' Market, and the question on the minds of most callers was, "Are you open?"

The short answer Monday was yes, but a more complete answer would follow: "Not for much longer."

Store owners Marge and Ted Morse and their son, Jeff, ran De Soto's only grocery store this week with a skeleton crew of two evening employees. The other 20 employees were laid off last week, in anticipation of the store closing on Thursday.

It's a sad end that the Morses didn't anticipate when they bought the market a second time in 2003. The family store did $87,000 a week in business when they sold it in 1997, Ted said. A decade later in a town with what Ted estimates has 500 more homes, the store's weekly business is about $30,000 less.

For the Morses, that figure suggests something about people who have moved to De Soto professing they were looking for an alternative to Johnson County suburban living and voicing an oft-repeated phase, "We don't want to live in another Lenexa."

"In some respects they do," Ted said. "The new people who moved out here, they want everything they had in Lenexa and Overland Park."

"This store just isn't good enough for the new people moving to De Soto."

Their best customers, those who came to the store weekly to fill up carts, were older De Soto families, Ted said.

As if to prove Ted's point, a member of one of those families, Karen McDaniel, made perhaps her last trip to the store Monday to fill five bags with groceries from its emptying shelves.

"This was my spot," she said. "I don't like grocery shopping anyway. I like to go and be done with it. I hate to see this place go."

The store's closing is what happens when people don't support local businesses, McDaniel said. As much as it will inconvenience her, she said the closing will be hardest on the elderly and residents without transportation who will have to get groceries from Shawnee, Lenexa, Olathe or Eudora.

De Soto Multi-Service Center manager Jodi Hitchcock said the store's closing could create more demand for bus programs.

"For some people, it is going to create a tremendous difficulty," she said of the closing. "Some people with limited transportation deal with the comfort level of getting out on the highway. Others have no transportation.

"It's just going to leave a big hole in the community."

Richard Isaacs, one of two remaining store employees, said the community needs a grocery store.

"I talk to people in the community," he said, "and most of them think someone's going to swoop down and take that store over. It's not going to happen."

Eating lunch Tuesday at the De Soto Senior Center, Wayne Loglisci said the closing would change his shopping patterns. A homebound resident of the Clearview City Apartments south of De Soto, Loglisci depends on FlexRide for his two-day-a-week rides to the senior center and a home health professional to purchase his groceries.

The closest store to his apartment is in Eudora, but Loglisci said his home health provider refused to shop there because that would provide tax dollars in Douglas rather than Johnson County. Now, he said more of his tax dollars would be leaving De Soto.

The city will see a significant loss in sales tax revenue with the store's closing. At De Soto's local 1.75-cent sales tax rate, the city would stand to collect about $51,000 annually from the store.

That's just another reason people should heed the call to shop locally, said De Soto Chamber of Commerce executive director Sara Ritter. In a bedroom community like De Soto where so many residents work in neighboring communities, that can be a hard sell, she said.

"That's one thing we're all guilty of, and that's going out of the community to shop," she said. "This community is historically commuters. We're used to shopping elsewhere for basic needs."

The Morses understood the draw of large chain supermarkets when they repurchased the store four years ago, Ted said. To make the De Soto store more competitive, they spent considerable time cleaning it up and invested $80,000 to computerize checkout lanes, he said. They also spent $50,000 to install a deli - a move that proved unsuccessful.

But the facelift and upgrades didn't change the shopping patterns of De Soto residents. Ted said a loss study last year found the store captured 25 percent of the De Soto market. It needed 45 percent to survive, he said.

Those leaving town never experienced, and perhaps never needed, the type of personal service the Morses provided. In between all the phone calls Monday asking if the store was still open, Marge took one from a weekend customer asking that the Morses hold a check she wrote until her Thursday payday.

"We get those all the time," she said. "It won't happen any longer. The big chains won't do that."

- De Soto Explorer editor Elvyn Jones can be reached at (785) 542-2747.


May Soo 8 years, 2 months ago

Those leaving town never experienced, and perhaps never needed, the type of personal service the Morses provided.

I wouldn't blame all on the locals on shop elsewhere and not supporting the local store. There got to be a reason why people rather drive long distance to shop than in their own back yard.

Jem144 8 years, 2 months ago

I work half my week in De Soto and live in Lenexa. I tried to use that grocery store to pick up a couple of things on my way home from work, for convenience. I couldn't find what I needed, and the place kind of grossed me out, so I never tried again. Unfortunately, that store didn't appear to have the selection or the ambiance to compete with larger chains for commuter business.

imastinker 8 years, 2 months ago

I wonder if a 1.75% sales tax had anything to do with it? Grocery stores operate on razor thin margins anyway, and a sales tax like that just means that the owners need to cut the margins even more to be competitive.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 2 months ago

Bedroom communities like Lawrence experience some of the same attitudes. However it is the local real estate/development leadership that keeps wanting to make Lawrence like other cities and most people that moved here don't want that nonsense. As Lawrence becomes like other communities so does the 81% increase in crime rate.

The more new infrastructure = more expanded overhead = more expanded tax bills. Lawrence simply cannot compete with the Topeka and KCMO retail markets. Residents have likely been shopping those two retail markets for 50 years. AND it probably took 100 years to build those attractive markets. Bedroom communities cost too much to operate.

Lawrence so called leaders do not have a plan as the real estate/developer World Company so often demonstrates. There are not enough retail dollars in Lawrence to justify putting shopping centers on every corner. Why not focus on ONE central business district such as downtown and make it work? 25 years of expanding the tax base which in fact increased taxes says there is something wrong with this picture. Like maybe elected officials did not know what they are doing and/or depended on the special interest group aka real estate community to rule which so many times also involved conflicts of interest as home builders were also sitting on County,City and Planning Commissions.

Why all the talk about public/private partnerships? Perhaps financial institutions will not finance projects due to lack of local dollars to support projects? Do taxpayers want to be on the losing end? NO WAY jose!

Commenting has been disabled for this item.