By Giacomo Bologna, Managing Editor
Published August 10, 2012
After nearly 80 years of serving Ann Arbor residents, White Market, a neighborhood grocer on East William Street, is planning to close on Aug. 25.
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Last fall, the arrival of a new landlord caused speculation that White Market would close. But now, Dave Jones, the store’s owner since 1984, was blunt in his explanation for the store’s exit.
“Money,” he said. “We were talking thousands of dollars a month more that (the new tenant is) paying.”
Jones said the new tenant, a restaurant, will be able to pay more in rent than White Market can, adding that the landlord, Costas Boutsikakis, made the decision based on rent.
But Jones said the expulsion of White Market wasn’t because the store was unprofitable. He explained that CVS initially took some business when it opened last year, but White Market had since won that business back.
As the only store that could potentially be labeled as a grocery store, Jones said he was “convinced” there’s a need for a store like White Market. He added that, given the right conditions, a store like that can survive.
Jones said White Market and Boutsikakis had been in “off-and-on negotiations up until a month ago,” and that White Market had been operating without a lease since Boutsikakis became the property owner.
“If you’re the landlord, you think your tenant’s not paying enough (and) if you’re the tenant, you think you’re paying a lot,” he said.
Jones said not having a lease placed the store in a limbo state and restricted White Market from pursuing any major changes.
“We had plans in place, but we couldn’t execute any of them,” he said.
Jones said he had been looking to move the store, which came to its current location in the 1940s, but couldn’t find a suitable replacement.
“There just hasn’t been anything available that would work size-wise — either way too little or way too big,” he said.
Bigger than a convenience store but smaller than a supermarket, White Market operates with just five young employees including Micah DeAndre Authement who said the store is more than just a place that sells food.
“It’s just a nice local vibe,” he said. “It’s kind of more like a family experience. It just feels connected.”
Authement added that the store cultivates a unique welcoming atmosphere and has good work relations.
“I’m not going to get yelled at about little stuff like clocking in five minutes late,” he said. “It’s a good job — the best job I’ve ever had.”
University alum Steven Lopez said he shopped at White Market “all the time” when he attended the University.
“It’s a decent place,” he said. “They have more of a grocery store as opposed to a party store because everything else around here just sells liquor and stuff that you don’t really use.”
Lopez added that White Market closing doesn’t leave many options for grocery stores in the heart of Ann Arbor.
“Kroger is the only thing close to us and that’s way on the other side (of Ann Arbor),” he said. “I’m on a bike, I don’t have a car, so anything within walking distance to me is a lot easier.”
With only two weeks left in business, the store has several aisles with signs denoting discounts, but Jones said there will be perishables stocked until the end.
If White Market had been consistently open for six days a week over the last 80 years, it would amount to about 25,000 days that White Market has welcomed Ann Arbor shoppers. While shoppers can still make plans to buy bananas on day 25,001, Jones remains uncertain about what he will do that day.
He said typically he does not personally close the store, but he’s contemplating doing it one last time.
Jones — who after about 30 years will begin a search for a new job next month — said he is equally unsure if he would ever dine at the new restaurant.
“I don’t know … I wouldn’t hold a grudge against anybody. That would be wrong,” he said. “But I’m disappointed that there’s not the space for both of us.”