Norwalk Mayor Sue Lesch said a retail business at the Giant Eagle site probably makes more sense than a new fire station.
Giant Eagle, along with the GetGo fuel and convenience store in front of the supermarket, will close Feb. 2, the Reflector learned today.
"That’s a suggestion I’ve received often," Lesch said about the idea of locating a new fire station on the property. "I suppose anything’s possible. I don’t think it’s likely."
She said a team is looking at a site for a new fire station, but they are not close to making any recommendations to city council.
"We have been traveling around and looking at some fire stations," Lesch said. "In 2008, we’ll really start looking and discussing it. It is a priority for me as mayor."
The decision of what will happen to the property really belongs to the owners, Lesch said. "I think it’s probably more valuable to the owners of that property as retail rather than as a fire station," she said.
"As mayor, I believe we need the retail downtown," Lesch said. "I’m not sure a grocery store is what’s needed, but some kind of retail would be great."
County records show the property is owned by JDS Properties, Norwalk Limited. The business has a New York City address.
Bethany Dentler, economic development director, said the Giant Eagle building would be the perfect site for a retail business. "It might be appropriate for some of the people we’ve been working with," she said. "Actually there have been some retail kinds of businesses that do need a significant amount of space. It’s great to have a nice, large, open space like that in our downtown area."
Tops Friendly Market opened at the site on Oct. 20, 2004. The Netherlands-based parent company of that grocery chain sold a number of its northern Ohio stores to Giant Eagle in late 2006, including the Norwalk one, which closed Dec. 8. It re-opened as a Giant Eagle store Feb. 1 of this year.
Dave Schild, owner of Schild’s IGA, attributes the long-term success of his grocery store to the loyalty of local residents. Schild’s, Norwalk’s oldest operating grocery store, opened in 1955 when his parents George and Irma Schild moved here from their original location in Monroeville.
Tops and Giant Eagle cut into his business, Schild said, but the reputation his parents built and he has tried to maintain kept the large corporate stores from running him out of business.
"My parents, especially, over all these years have built up a tremendous amount of good will and that translates into loyalty. They had the right style," he said.
"People will maybe try a big metro store like Tops or Giant Eagle," Schild said, "but if they don’t see an appreciable difference they will come back and say, ‘OK, I’m shopping with the local guy’."
He said the corporate stores don’t get the same loyalty in large cities because of the transient population.
Schild said a city like Norwalk attracts people not only because of the small-town flavor, but because it is a very progressive city that offers advantages not always found in small towns.
"People love living in Norwalk," he said. "We have a great high school. We’ve expanded the parochial school. Look at Ernsthausen rec center. Look at our uptown area."
He believes the area will continue to see growth. " Norwalk will grow quite a bit just because of what we have here," Schild said.
Some people are coming here and moving their businesses from more metropolitan areas just because they enjoy the atmosphere, he added. "People come here and they say I want to live here. They say I’d rather move my business here and live in a great town. That really says a lot for Norwalk and people like us that have been here all these years."
He pointed out that "home town proud" has been a theme of IGA for many years.
But being the oldest grocery in town doesn’t mean a thing if a business isn’t willing to adapt to new markets and ideas, Schild said.
"You have to change," he said. "You have to add things. We’ve added the fuel program."
The store’s latest addition, started just last week, is gift cards for many stores in Sandusky Mall and other national stores and area restaurants.
"We’ll be adding more and more stores and restaurants to that program and those count toward fuel discounts," he said, adding that Schild’s is now looking into adding a seafood department.
"You can’t ever stand still," Schild said. That accounts for the success of long-time local stores when corporate stores come and go, he said.
Norwalk also is home to Aldi, Apple's and Gardner's Super Valu grocery stores, as well as Wal-Mart, which added a grocery section when it expanded a few years ago. The Reflector is in the process of contacting representatives from those stores for comment.
The city's southside has been without a grocery store since Food Town closed a number of years ago.