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Owner, neighbors lament Baldwin Borough Foodland's closing

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Faithful patrons continue to shop for their daily essentials at the Foodland in the Curry Hollow Shopping Center in Baldwin Borough, despite the empty shelves and "closing" signs that line the once-prosperous business.

At the door, owner Ken Krall continues to meet customers, many of whom he knows by first name, with a friendly hello.

Yet, Krall, 49, of West Homestead, struggles to talk about the end of the family-owned-and-operated business he has run for the past four years.

"He put his whole heart and soul into it," said Krall's sister-in-law, Darlene Zeh of Jefferson Hills, the store's manager.

A tumultuous sequence of events left the store without a chance of survival. The final blow came in January when discount grocery chain Bottom Dollar Food opened in the Brownsville Plaza shopping center, just blocks away.

The discount grocer offered coupon deals that led to long lines at its store, yet hurt business at the locally owned Foodland.

"We just couldn't recoup. They were lined up around the block there," Zeh said. "In this economy, you can't blame people. But the little guy just can't compete."

A Foodland has been in business in the Curry Hollow Shopping Center for nearly 25 years, local officials said. Prior to that, Kroger operated a grocery store at the site.

Krall, who worked as a manager at Giant Eagle for 20 years, purchased the Foodland about four years ago.

"This was the logical next step," he said. But within the first year of ownership, struggles were evident.

Value City, one of the largest stores in the shopping center, closed that year, Krall said. Other businesses soon followed.

"The shopping center really died," Zeh said. "We didn't have the draw."

Local residents said they are sad to see the store close.

"It's a shame. It's hurting the community," said George Cox, 51, of Baldwin Borough, who has been shopping at the site since it was a Kroger. "I know all the people here."

The store will remain open at least until the end of the month with closing sales, Krall said. A closing sale now offers 40 percent off everything in the store except tobacco and milk.

The majority of the store's nearly 40 employees have been offered other opportunities, Krall said.

The owner and manager said they are not sure what the future holds for them.

"God closes a door and opens a window," Zeh said. "We'll be fine. Everything works out for a reason."

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