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Coborn's to close Montevideo store

MONTEVIDEO — Coborn's Inc. is closing its Montevideo store at the end of the month.

Company officials told employees of the plans Monday. Coborn's closed its pharmacy located in the store Tuesday and transferred its files to the Thrifty White, according to information from the company.

The Coborn's store is a prominent feature of the Montevideo's Highway 7 business district. The supermarket also includes an in-store bakery, deli and cafe.

"It hits a town of our size pretty tough,'' said Mayor Debra Lee Fader. "Everybody is very upset, sad. It is just very, very sad.''

The closing affects approximately 59 employees, including 12 full-time and 47 part-time employees, according to the company.

"As an employee-owned company, Coborn's strives to ensure the success of all our stores,'' stated Coborn's chairman and president and CEO Chris Coborn in a news release announcing the closing. "This decision to close the Coborn's store in Montevideo was difficult and not made lightly. I am thankful to the team in Montevideo for their hard work since this store opened in 2011."

The company said it is offering the employees one-on-one placement assistance or other roles within the company. It will also offer other transition assistance for those employees where continued employment is not an option, it stated.

The Coborn's store is the third supermarket to operate from the building. The building previously held Cooper's County Market and before that, the County Market.

The closing leaves Montevideo with two supermarkets, the locally owned and independent Bill's Supermarket in the downtown area and the Walmart Supercenter on the eastern edge of the community.

Bill Pauling, owner of Bill's Supermarket, said the closing is unfortunate for the community.

"I've been the little guy in the bottom of the river in the weeds making my living and the big fish on top of me,'' he said.

"I feel fortunate that the community has supported me. I will continue to do whatever I have to do make my supermarket sustainable in this market,'' he said.

Pauling said the local market changed dramatically with the arrival of the Walmart Supercenter in late 2007. Until its arrival, the market was large enough to sustain his store as well as that of Cooper's County Market, which was owned by his competitor who was also his friend.

The new Walmart doubled the square footage of supermarket space in the community, offering as much sales area as that of his store and the County Market combined, he said.

Pauling said his friend reported revenue declines with the opening of the Walmart Supercenter. An assessment tool used by the industry also indicated that the square footage provided by the three stores was too large for the market, he said.

Tax data from the Minnesota Department of Revenue shows gross food and beverage sales of just over $13.8 million in Montevideo in 2016, the last year for which data are available. Food and beverage sales totaled $20.2 million in 2012, but the figure in subsequent years has remained in the range of $13 million to $14 million.

In its announcement of the closing, Coborn's said the Montevideo store "is simply unable to generate the guest count necessary to sustain operations as is.''

The building is owned by Coborn's. It has not entered into discussions with the city of Montevideo about its future plans for the site.

City officials do not expect the building to remain vacant for long. Angie Steinbach, assistant city manager and community development director for Montevideo, said her office receives many inquiries about the availability of retail space with state Highway 7 frontage in the community.

The Coborn's announcement comes at a difficult time in the community. SL-Technology in Montevideo announced in April that it was beginning a six-month, staged layoff and wind-down process to close its manufacturing plant with 110 employees.

The two hits make for a difficult summer, Mayor Fader said, adding that she and others remain hopeful going forward. Legislative approval for funding to develop a veterans nursing home and plans to build a special needs school to serve the area will help bring new economic opportunities, she said.

Based in St. Cloud, Coborn's Inc. is a 87-year-old employee-owned grocery retailer with nearly 8,000 employees and 53 stores in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois and Wisconsin under the Coborn's, Cash Wise Foods, Marketplace Foods and Save-A-Lot banners, the news released stated.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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