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In this undated file photo, Tricia Soupir of New London shops in the produce section at The Big Store. The New London store, which has been in operation for more than 140 years, is going out of business. Tribune file photo
In this undated file photo, Tricia Soupir of New London shops in the produce section at The Big Store. The New London store, which has been in operation for more than 140 years, is going out of business. Tribune file photo

NL's Big Store to close its doors

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

NEW LONDON -- For the first time in 142 years, New London residents strolled down Main Street on Thursday and saw a "Store Closing" sign on its historied grocery store.

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Brian Hedtke, owner of The Big Store in New London, said Thursday the longtime downtown grocery will close Monday after struggling for business since last summer.

Hedtke said the economic situation over the last six months hurt his grocery business, but sales actually started declining in the summer.

Normally, Hedtke said, the Big Store has earned strong profits during the summer months due to the increased tourism in the area.

But the high fuel prices in 2008 killed that trend, he said.

Hedtke said summer business in the past has been strong enough to help the grocery store "carry through the rest of the year." But in 2008, with $4-per-gallon gas, the tourism business "wasn't there at all," he said.

"The slow summer was the key," Hedtke said, indicating the store's decline "snowballed" when the difficult economy hit small towns.

Like any other small-town business owner, Hedtke said, retail supercenters also played a role in the grocery's troubles over the last year.

"I hate to say it, but Wal-Mart hurts us," said Hedtke, who has owned The Big Store for since January 2007. "It just kills us."

Hedtke said he concluded Tuesday that he needed to close the store. According to Carla Hedtke, management notified The Big Store's employees about the closing Wednesday. Carla Hedtke said the grocery is also holding a sale on its goods until the store's closing.

According to Tribune archives, Brian Hedtke has worked in the grocery industry ever since he was 16, working as a carryout boy for a Willmar grocery. He even worked at The Big Store for a few years before he purchased the grocery.

The Big Store is also the second business with a long history in New London to close its Main Street doors in the past year. In November, Tiger Marine closed after 44 years of business in New London. In spite of the closings, Hedtke said New London is fortunate to have a Main Street of businesses that is still strong and viable in these tough times.

Much of the New London community is shocked that the longtime grocery is closing.

"I'm just speechless, I really am," said Helen Peterson, wife of the late Norman Peterson who sold the store to Hedtke. "It doesn't seem possible. I know things can happen, but it's sad, it really is."

According to Tribune archives, the Big Store has been the only grocery store in New London, serving the area for 142 years.

Mayor Bill Gossman said he wasn't sure how much of a blow The Big Store's closing would cause to the community, "but it will hurt." Gossman said he knew local residents shopped there, but they just aren't spending much money in today's economic climate.

"It's a sign of the times," Gossman said, indicating that even though the grocery will close, he thinks someone will buy the store soon.

Peterson said it is imperative that New London has a grocery store.

"We absolutely need a store in town," Peterson said. "It's been here for 100-some years. We just need it."

Hedtke confirmed there is a party interested in purchasing The Big Store. If the party buys the space, Hedtke said, another grocery store is likely.

As for Hedtke, he said he's not sure what his next move is other than "getting through this." He also said he wanted to thank the New London community for its support while he owned the store.

Despite the closing, Hedtke said he is confident he has built enough relationships in the grocery industry "to come up with something."

"I always tell people I'm like a bad penny," Hedtke said. "I'll turn up somewhere."

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