CandK blames Walmart expansion for diminished sales

Diminished sales and the Walmart expansion led to the decision to close Smith River's only grocery store, CandK Market representatives told residents Wednesday.

More than 100 people attended the meeting at the Smith River Community Hall and some questioned company representatives, asking what is being done to encourage another grocery store to replace the outgoing Ray's Food Place. Some talked of opening a cooperative that would feature local products. Others discussed short-term transportation options to help residents get to markets in Crescent City.

Many vented their frustration and questioned the circumstances that led to the decision to close the supermarket.

"There has always been a store," one resident said. "Now there's going to be nothing. You have shut down this community."

CandK Market plans to close the store Aug. 4.

Sales at Ray's Food Place in Smith River have decreased by 25 percent since 2008, said Rocky Campbell, CandK Market's vice president of operations. The company had made some upgrades to the store and had initially planned to keep it open for another year, but the Walmart Supercenter in Crescent City changed things, he said.

CandK Market closed the Ray's Food Place in Crescent City about two months after the expanded Walmart opened in November to try to shift business to the Smith River store, Campbell said. The decision to close the store was made just in the past few months, he said.

"One in four folks have either left (the community) or chose to shop at other locations," he said. "We can't blame folks for shopping at Walmart and we can't blame Walmart. This is truly what happens when Walmart comes into the community."

Walmart Supercenters have had a negative impact on 39 CandK Market stores, Campbell said. The company closed a Ray's Food Place in Yreka after a Walmart Supercenter moved in, he said.

CandK Market, which owns the building that houses Ray's Food Place as well as the post office next door and the Java Hut site in the parking lot, would be willing to sell or lease the building, Campbell said.

Many people, including District 3 county Supervisor Mike Sullivan and suspended District Attorney Jon Alexander, asked Campbell if CandK could delay closing the supermarket.

"Given what everybody has done to support the store, could you at least consider extending the Aug. 4 deadline to get a suitable replacement in?" Alexander asked.

Campbell said extending the closure date may not be an option due to CandK Market's obligation to the bank.

Other residents, including John Roberts, discussed what could be done with the building once the store closes. Ideas included opening a sheriff substation or moving the post office into the building.

But what the community really needs is a grocery store, said Karen Dillon. She said she wanted to make sure CandK Market wouldn't prevent another supermarket from coming into the vacant building.

Campbell said CandK Market would be willing to help the community encourage another grocery store to open in the vacant building or establish a co-op.

Attorney Darren McElfresh also offered his services for free to get another grocery store in the community. He said he has formed businesses and other legal entities in Del Norte County for decades.

To open a co-op, the community would need to form a charter, McElfresh said. Establishing a cooperative isn't complicated, but it would need the support and work of the local community.

"This is really a grass-roots operation that depends on community involvement, but my door's open for it," he said. "I really hope we can take care of that need. It's a real travesty to see businesses leave the area."

Scott Feller, field representative for state Sen. Jim Nielsen, said the senator's staff is reaching out to other rural communities in the district to find out how they have attracted new grocery stores or kept their existing supermarkets open.

Sullivan said he and other members of the county Board of Supervisors would speak with representatives at Redwood Coast Transit to "beef up" its schedule to Smith River.

Campbell said CandK had spoken with a representative at Smith River Baptist Church, which would form a motor pool using its vans. CandK Market would help subsidize transportation costs, he said.

Roberts, who helped organize the meeting with Joni Forsht, said he hopes to organize a future meeting to discuss either establishing a co-op or encouraging another supermarket to fill the vacancy.

"We need to work with them," he said, referring to CandK Market. "At the end of the day they still own the store."

CandK Market plans to offer jobs at its other stores to its employees in Smith River, according to a company press release. The company operates 61 grocery stores and 15 pharmacies.

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