BY JAIME YARBROUGH
Joni Forsht couldn’t believe her eyes when the Community Center in Smith River started to fill up with over 150 people to discuss the options to the closure of Ray’s Food Place on the 4th of August. Supervisor Mike Sullivan was together with the Chief Administrative Officer for the county Jay Sarina. They were flanked by two representatives from C & K Foods: Rocky Campbell and corporate council Kate Wilkinson.
John Roberts, a co-organizer and local resident, opened the meeting with an announcement that the closure of the store for all practical purposes will happen with little possibility of reversal due to bank agreements already set in motion. He further stated the purpose of the meeting as one to explore the possible options rather than it being one to beat up the corporation.
Mr Campbell started the meeting by stating the company position and the reason for the decision to close. “Of the 63 stores we own, 39 have shown a 25% decline since 2008. The decline in Smith River is largely due to the expansion of Walmart to a Super Walmart.” This phenomenon is not new to grocery chains like Rays and Shop Smart. “The pattern is fairly predictable” he said, ” between 3-5 years if not sooner a Super Walmart in the area will cause such a draw of business the closure of a store is almost a certainty.”
In response to some of the questions he said “To date there have been no interested parties looking at the vacancy and the the store portion of the property will be placed on the real estate market soon.” C&K foods owns the property both the Java Hut and the Post Office are on with no plans to disrupt their operations. “We really didn’t want to close the store but after making a cut of 25 people in corporate staff and local salary cuts, but the numbers left no option.” The short notice was regrettable but in the interest to keep people working it was a decision they needed to make.
Several members of the audience spoke about the hardships that will be faced by the poor, the aged, the unemployed, and the children. Options and ideas were brought up about increasing regional transit to aid people getting to a grocery store. There was also mention of a regional program starting to take place in Mendocino to help rural areas handle the needs of local residents. Talk about starting a “co-operative” type store was brought up and C&K said they would assist in that or any other idea the town wants to pursue. Jeff Parmer, Executive Director of the Del Norte – Crescent City Chamber of Commerce pledged their support as well.
By the size of the attendance, the cooperation of both C & K, the County and the Chamber of Commerce; another meeting in the very near future is likely to be held to formalize the search and research for viable ideas. Even with the writing on the wall there was a sense by the community they were not alone. While the future is uncertain change will happen hopefully for the good.