Efforts are being made to help employees at the closing Buehler’s Fresh Foods store, as well as filling the retail space at 800 W. Central Ave., Delaware City Council learned Monday.
“I just think it was so important to reach out to these people,” said Mayor Carolyn Kay Riggle. “I had a lady who’s going to be 64 said, ‘I don’t know how to apply online, and unless I can get a face-to-face (interview), I’ll never get a job.’”
“The first item of concern for all of us was the employees,” said Sean Hughes, the city’s economic development director. “We’ve taken several actions to try to help those dislocated workers.”
Earlier this month, Buehler Food Markets Inc. announced that it will close its Delaware store by the end of February. The restaurant’s last day will be Sunday, Jan. 17.
The closing will affect 131 employees — 40 full-time, 23 part-time and 68 seasonal. The company said it will offer eligible employees a position at the 14 other Buehler’s stores across the state. Those who do not transfer will be offered a severance package and recommended to other Delaware supermarkets.
“We went ahead and notified local and state Job and Family Services and our education training partners (at Columbus State Community College and Delaware Area Career Center) to let them know what was going on,” Hughes said.
Also, Hughes said a meeting will be held between the city and the employees “to talk about all the resources that might be available to a dislocated employee — things such as resume writing, practice interviewing.”
Buehler’s was also going to hold a job fair, inviting in area grocery stores to recruit their Delaware store employees, with the idea that they would work at Buehler’s until they close and then move over to the other store.
“There’s all sorts of tools and resources,” Hughes said. “You shouldn’t feel like you’re alone. We don’t want those folks out there without support, lingering in the marketplace for an extended period of time. Fortunately, you’re seeing ‘Help Wanted’ signs everywhere. Everybody needs employees right now, and I feel very confident these souls are going to find new places to work, and be able to support their families. That’s a great thing, because we weren’t able to say that three years ago. You never want to see a store close, but there’s no better time for that to happen.”
In addition, city officials say they are being aggressive in trying to fill the 70,000 square-foot big-box building that housed the store.
“You don’t want that to sit there vacant, in the middle of a neighborhood, for an extended period of time,” Hughes said.
He said the city has started reaching out to potential users, such as caterers, bakeries, restaurants and specialty food retailers, such as Fresh Thyme.
“You have a full turnkey restaurant right there,” Hughes said. “The bakery is one of the most phenomenal bakeries I’ve ever seen.”
The city has also talked with Realtors about dividing the space for multiple users, or turning the space into an events center or concert venue. Hughes said that offering incentives may need to be considered, something the city hasn’t done in the past with retailers.
“We need to get going on something quickly, so that Delaware County Bank continues to be happy being there,” Hughes said.
The Ace Hardware store will remain open, and likely will expand into part of the existing Buehler’s. Ace and Buehler’s has the same parent company, E&H Family Group. The florist is also expected to move into the Ace store.
Buehler’s was founded in 1929 by former A&P employee E.L. (Ed) Buehler and his wife, Helen, in New Philadelphia. The company is now based in Wooster. The Delaware store opened in 1969, and moved to its Central Avenue location in 1986. However, the company considered the store to be “under-performing” and had to make “hard decisions,” prompting the closure.
Before the store closes, the Buehler’s weekly ad will continue to be delivered and discounts are expected in order to sell down inventory.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.