Two weeks ago today, the Acme Market in Millsboro closed its doors after 40 years in the same location.
The closing, which came barely a year after the regional chain reopened following a $5 million remodel and expansion, puzzled many in the town, especially Millsboro officials, who want to get to the bottom of the closing.
Town Manager Faye Lingo said on Thursday, July 18, 2002, that the town just wants to know the "who, what and why" of the issue so it can answer inevitable questions from businesses considering taking over the site.
She said she doesn't know any more about the closure than what she's heard -- that the company, a division of Albertson's Inc., of Boise, Idaho, one of the country's largest supermarket companies with 2,300 stores in 31 states, "wasn't making as much as they thought they should."
A spokesman for Acme said before the closing that it was simply a matter of economics and that the store had lost $1 million since it reopened last year.
"It's not rocket science," said the spokesman for the $38 billion company.
The spokesman insisted that Albertson's, which bought Acme in 2000, is in good financial shape generally even though it closed another 165 stores in 25 states last year and announced it would exit the Memphis, Nashville, Houston and San Antonio markets in March.
In fact, an extensively remodeled store in Phoenixville, Pa. -- a Philadelphia suburb -- reopened with great fanfare the same week Millsboro's closed, and the Albertson's chain announced plans in May to invest $1 billion in new stores and remodelings in southern California.
But it's no secret that Route 113 in front of the store was a traffic nightmare for that same year while DelDOT repaved the four-lane highway and added turn lanes and crossovers. Other businesses no doubt suffered during the year, particularly those near crossovers that were closed for long periods of time.
Still, the fact that the supermarket has been in Millsboro for around 40 years, that it had limited local competition, and that Millsboro is poised for growth in the coming decade, makes the closing all the more difficult to figure out.
Millsboro's town officials are wise to try to get to the meat of the matter. Under the direction of former Mayor Lynn Bullock, the town has readied itself for the inevitable westward movement of the growth explosion that has started at the beaches, and which has resulted in a 38 percent increase in Sussex County's population in the past 10 years.
Lingo chuckled when told Sussex County Online was calling her for a bit of "rumor control" -- namely, whether Wal-Mart or Sam's Club could be eying the former Acme site. "I haven't heard anything from them," or from anyone else interested in taking the place of the Acme, Lingo said.
But Lingo surely hopes it doesn't sit there empty for long. "It's pretty much a brand-new building," she said.
Maybe the execs at Acme haven't heard about the boom we're experiencing here in Sussex. Til Purnell, longtime activist from Herring Creek, said at a forum once that "People keep saying Sussex County is growing. It's not growing, it's filling up."
Towns like Millsboro, Selbyville, Dagsboro and others have taken laudable steps to prepare for that growth. It's a shame a regional company like Acme doesn't see that. We only hope the town of Millsboro will get more respect from the next tenant -- whoever it is.
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