By Lance Mihm
ST. MARYS -- Pantry Pride Markets has reorganized and plans to reopen a grocery store in St. Marys at the location it left more than a decade ago.
Ken Arps of Celina, one of three partners of SBA Realty, said in a telephone interview Monday the business will open the grocery in what has been a Big Bear store in the interim. Plans call for the new store along state Route 703 to open in late January.
SBA Realty owns the former Big Bear stores that now sit vacant in Celina and St. Marys, as well as the Pantry Pride grocery chain. The other two partners in the realty firm are Don Schramm of Wapakoneta and Jacque Bradford of St. Marys.
The store in St. Marys will have the same basic format as the former Pantry Pride store, Arps said.
"We are currently replacing and refurbishing some equipment," he said. "We are doing some redecorating. But we will have the same basic departments that we had before." Pantry Pride has not been in St. Marys since SBA closed the business on Oct. 10, 1992, and leased both St. Marys and Celina stores to Penn Traffic, which opened Big Bear groceries in both locations.
"I think at the time we decided to sell the markets to Penn Traffic, we didn't have any idea we would be getting back into the business," Arps said. "Sometimes things just happen. We didn't even think we could possibly be doing this as recent as two years ago. It is exhilarating. We have minor things coming up to take care of and we are dealing with them one thing at a time."
Arps said they decided to reopen the store after not receiving any viable offers for the location.
"It was on the market," Arps said. "But quite frankly, we didn't receive any offers that made sense to us. We feel the store is in a good location and it is set up to do some business. When Big Bear filed bankruptcy, it was because the problems they were having were in other locations other than Auglaize and Mercer counties."
Several other stores are eying St. Marys as a potential site for new stores. Giant Eagle, a chain of independently owned and operated grocery stores in the Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland area, is looking at the possibility of putting a store in the St. Marys area. A new commercial and residential development anchored by a Kroger store is being planned to open in fall of 2005 on the southwest corner of U.S. 33 and Ohio 66.
Currently, the only grocery store in St. Marys is Chief, located at the St. Marys Square shopping center.
"We can't decide what those people will do," Arps said when asked about potential competition. "We just feel this store is located in a high traffic area with other viable stores around it. The business will do fine."
The St. Marys site is the only Pantry Pride grocery planned to be opened by the group, but Arps said the group was "holding on to the possibility of opening more." He said there were no current plans to reopen a Pantry Pride at the former Big Bear site in Celina.
"Right now, we are concentrating on getting the store in St. Marys up and running," he said.