Only grocery store in area leaves many in the lurch

Residents of Smith River and surrounding areas will soon have to drive to Crescent City or Brookings to buy groceries.

Ray's Food Place will close on Aug. 4 due to rising transportation expenses and competition, company representatives announced Wednesday.

"We would like to thank the Smith River community for its support of our Ray's store over the past 21 years," Greg Sandeno, president and CEO of CandK Market Inc., said in a written statement. "We encourage customers seeking a local choice for groceries in Del Norte County to choose Shop Smart Foods in Crescent City."

CandK also owns the Shop Smart Foods chain.

Customers took the news badly. While for some having to travel to Crescent City or Brookings for groceries is an inconvenience, for others traveling 13 miles south or 12 miles north for groceries will be difficult.

Eustolia Luna and daughter Maria de Lara loaded armfuls of groceries into the back of Sandra Campos' PT Cruiser on Wednesday afternoon. Luna, who doesn't drive and cooks for a family of eight, said her husband works in Crescent City and she walks to Smith River's only supermarket every day.

"If they close, where am I going to shop?" she said in Spanish with Campos translating. "It's necessary. Where am I going to shop to get food to cook for the children?"

Others were also worried about the folks who work at Smith River's lily bulb farms, many of whom rely on Ray's Food Place.

"They all shop at Ray's," said Martha Gonzalez, who visited La Joya Market, a small Hispanic-foods store, with granddaughter Alejandra Ortega on Wednesday. "A lot of kids need milk, tortillas, cheese and bread."

Gonzalez, who lives near Salmon Harbor RV Resort and works in Brookings, said she visits Ray's Food Place because it's near her granddaughter's day care.

"If we need potatoes or we need meat, we go there," she said. "I don't know why they're closing."

David Brambila, who rents bounce houses and owns La Joya Mexican Market and RV Park, estimated that 1,000 Hispanic people help pick the Easter lilies in Smith River. About half live in the community permanently, he said.

Even though the store's closure will be tough on some of his customers, Brambila said he doesn't yet know how his business will be affected by it. In June 2012, when Chetco Federal Credit Union closed its Smith River branch, located inside Ray's, many people came to Brambila to cash their checks. He said he is also opening up a restaurant in about two to three weeks and expected that will generate more business.

As a business owner, Brambila said he understood CandK Market's reason for closing Ray's. Smith River's isolation and distance from cities like Medford and Eureka make it difficult and expensive to bring supplies in, he said. Many truckers simply don't want to drive so far.

"I have the same problem in the wintertime," Brambila said, adding that business drops with the temperatures. "The thing that helps me is I own the RV park and the bounce house. That's what keeps my business (afloat) in the winter."

According to Sandeno, CandK Market plans to transfer Smith River employees to other stores in the area. But for Crescent City resident Crystal Dutton, whose mother Lori has worked at Ray's Food Place for more than 20 years, that may not be enough.

Dutton said her mother may transfer to Brookings, which will make things difficult because her father, who drives the only family car, works in Crescent City. There are also many employees who don't drive, she said. They choose to walk to work.

"My parents shop there every night," Dutton said. "It's where they go for dinner. It's the only grocery store for 13 miles either way."

Charlene Reichlin, whose niece works at the grocery store, worries that Ray's closure will have harsh consequences for Smith River.

"It's going to kill Smith River," she said. "This is the only store we have here. There's nothing out here. I'm sick for the people here."

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