Sale prices coming, employees get paid, no major replacement assistance
By Mark Reaman
People are bracing for the four-month closure of Crested Butte’s largest grocery store as Clark’s Market begins a major renovation on August 18 that will last until December. It will be harder to run in and get that gallon of milk or pound of hamburger without planning in advance. Clark’s customers will begin to notice signs of the preparation to close this week.
“Effective immediately, we will not restock items that are typically slow movers and/or not regular grocery staples for everyday customers,” explained Clark’s marketing director Samantha Johnston. “This includes things like spices, specialty baking ingredients, kitchenware and many other items that we keep in the store but aren’t fast moving products. We will be restocking fresh items such as produce, meat, dairy, eggs, etc. as normal through Friday, August 11.”
Beginning August 11, Clark’s will intentionally reduce all inventory through storewide priced reductions. Everything in the store (excluding alcohol and the pharmacy next door) will be reduced as follows: August 11 and 12 = 25% off, August 13, 14 and 15 = 50% off and August 16 and 17 = 75% off. Johnston said the goal is to sell out of everything possible in the Crested Butte location.
Clark’s began remodeling all of its existing stores in 2014 starting with the Snowmass grocery. There currently are nine other Clark’s locations and a tenth opening up in Denver. Johnston said the Crested Butte store is the only remaining Clark’s location in need of a remodel. Understanding the impact of a closure on a small mountain town, Clark’s hopes the renovation project goes smoothly and fast.
“We’re just very thankful for the support we’ve received from the community of Crested Butte in response to this remodel. We know that closing a grocery store in a mountain town is very disruptive,” she said. “We explored every option to keep the store open on a limited basis while remodeling, but the power infrastructure is so old that our contractors said it was necessary to close in order to redo everything properly. We’ll do everything in our power to keep the remodel on schedule and to reopen as quickly as we can.”
The pharmacy will not close during the renovation.
Johnston said it was important to Clark’s to find a way to support power to the pharmacy during the remodel so that customers who rely on the store for prescriptions retain easy access to their medications.
Helping out in crunch time
In the meantime, Johnston said the company has “had conversations with Mountain Earth to see if there are things that we can do to support them with increased sales volume during our closure. Grocers in Gunnison have also been made aware of the closure.”
Mountain Earth Organic Grocers in Crested Butte is a full-fledged grocery store but a lot smaller than Clark’s. Co-owners Paula Sieve and Steph White said they will do what they can to help alleviate the crunch that will come with a Clark’s closing in mid-August, but there is only so much they can do.
“I imagine we’ll see more people here when Clark’s closes,” said Sieve. “We will do our best to be here for the people. We don’t want people having to drive to Gunnison for every little thing, like to buy a loaf of bread. Right now, we get three big deliveries a week and we will likely take that to four. But at our store what you see is what you get. We don’t have a big storage space in the back to keep stocking the shelves.”
Mountain Earth has added another line of organic products with a more affordable price point, and they added more shelving to create space for more items within the store. Sieve said Clark’s representatives did reach out to basically offer moral support. Mountain Earth said they would be happy to hire any of the Clark’s employees during the closure, but they have seen no takers. That might be in part because Clark’s will be offering reduced wages to their employees.
“It is always a pinch point when our high school and college workers leave to go back to school and that will happen about the same time Clark’s closes so we will really be pinched,” predicted Sieve. “Staffing is an issue for us like it is for everyone, but we will max out our space as best we can.”
Josephine Kellett of Frank’s Deli located next to Clark’s Market said as a result of the temporary closing she plans to produce more lunch sandwiches to pick up the slack from closing the Clark’s Deli. “We plan on increasing the quantity of our grab-and-go offerings during that time,” she said.
The town of Crested Butte is allowing an informational banner to be hung on the construction site, and it was noted at a recent town council meeting that the free RTA buses make it easier for people to travel to Gunnison to shop for groceries there. The Mountain Express is exploring the idea of providing a regular ride to Gunnison to grocery shop for local senior citizens.
Staging for the construction is expected to take place in the parking lot but details are still being worked out on logistics.
As for local Clark’s employees, efforts are being made to help them out through the four-month closure. Clark’s has 13 full-time employees, 26 part-time workers and five seasonal J-1 Visa employees. Johnston said a few employees will continue working full-time at the Crested Butte store during the remodel assisting with day-to-day tasks associated with the construction.
“All full-time employees were offered an opportunity to schedule hours in another Clark’s Market store in the company and we will provide housing and travel benefits,” she added. “We realize that many employees may not choose this option if they are unable to leave their families, etc. but it is available to all. All full-time employees will be paid 60% of their regular wages regardless of whether they work. We know that some employees will take this as an opportunity to travel or spend additional time with family and friends; others have indicated that they will pick up additional full- or part-time work to supplement their income and take advantage of an opportunity to make financial headway. For any employee paid at 60% who volunteers at least 40% of their normally scheduled work hours to a local nonprofit, we will pay them at 100% of their wages.”
End product expectations
When the remodel is completed, Johnston said the new store will be significantly nicer. “The Crested Butte Clark’s Market will enjoy the same rich, warm and vibrant interior décor and feel of the other Clark’s Markets. Exceptional lighting is a fun component of all the Clark’s Markets with custom lighting by department to highlight products throughout the store,” she said by email last week. “Customers will notice local imagery on aisle signage and throughout other areas of the store. With the exception of the self-checkout lanes, everything in the CB store will be new. We are ripping everything out to the dirt inside and refinishing from the floor up.”
A major change in how the store flows will also be apparent to customers, she said. Currently, produce is on the left-hand side of the store, which is not the traditional flow of a grocery store – produce is most always on the right allowing people to start with fresh vegetables, add meat and seafood, shop the center of the store and end with cold dairy items in the cart just before checkout.
“The size of the fresh produce department will nearly double in size and the deli and meat and seafood departments will have expanded capabilities to produce more in-house prepared meals for grab-and-go, etc.,” Johnston said. “Things that will be new for customers will include signatures of our other Clark’s Market stores (stone-fired pizza, fresh-squeezed juices and smoothies, pre-sliced and packaged vegetables and fruits, fresh doughnuts and expanded bakery items).”
“We are open to ways in which we can continue to support the community and are actively watching our Facebook, Instagram (my phone number and email is also appearing online, on our website and in our newspaper ads) for ideas or suggestions that we may not have thought about,” concluded Johnston.