Friday, October 28, 2011

Witherbee's Market Grand Opening...And Possible Closing

UPDATE: Witherbee's Market and Deli announced on their Facebook page today that they'll be closing soon. Here's the announcement:
It is with deep regret and tears in our eyes that we announce the closing of Witherbee's Market and Deli on November 5, 2011. Our sincere thanks to everyone who supported our efforts to bring fresh food to Flint's inner city. We have made lots of friends over the last year that we will dearly miss. Stop by during the next week as we put many things on sale to clear the store.
So it appears that Flint's experiment with a downtown grocery store is over. I know there was a very complicated financing package in place to get Witherbee's up and running, but it's hard for me to understand why it's preferable for the creditors to close the store down instead of simply lowering the rent. Isn't some rent better than no rent?

Here's the post that ran August 8, 2011:

UPDATE: This post originally ran on June 14, 2010. Now, a little over a year later, Witherbee's Market appears to be on its last legs. Kris Turner of The Flint Journal reports:

The downtown grocery store, which opened in June 2010, isn’t making enough money to cover its bills, said David White, one of the market’s co-owners. It's located at 601 Martin Luther King Ave.

“We probably should have closed two months ago, but we’ve been hanging on hoping something will change,” he said.

The 10,000 square-foot store needs to generate more than $1 million in sales a year to meet its needs, White said. It has done about half that and is struggling to get by, he added.

The store had 15 employees when it opened and is now down to seven. Its utility bills are $8,000 a month in the winter — an astronomical cost that’s almost impossible to keep up with, White said.

And then there’s the rent. At $10,000 a month, Witherbee’s can’t afford to stay in its space. The store got a $4,000 reprieve on its rent from February to September but it hasn’t been enough.

Here's the original post from June 14, 2010:

I took a break from transcribing interviews to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Witherbee's Market & Deli at 601 Martin Luther King Avenue this morning. In addition to a big crowd of locals, including Mayor Dayne Walling, a Japanese film crew was on hand to document the event, confirming that you never know what to expect in Flint.


  1. Nice photos! And welcome to Flint! You probably aren't at liberty to say, but how are the prices and selection at Witherbees? That's the key to it's success, I suspect.

  2. This was one of the highlighted stories for me in 2010. A positive moving ahead reportage that makes some of the negative things about Flint's struggles seem less weighty. It's an unfortunate setback for a potentially positive venture that I thought would be a winner. What a bummer. Maybe a scaled down version with less overhead might suffice. It was a great idea though.

  3. How is it that that piece of land in Flint MI is worth $10,000 a month? $1.2 million a year? That seems a little preposterous to me. That being said, I'd hate for it to be closed for all the people who live downtown.

  4. Anonymous, you got that right. Note to Flint Journal: I know you're probably in worse financial shape than this doomed grocery store, but would it kill you to ask a few insanely obvious questions when you cover a story? For $1.2 million you could give away free food to the residents of Carriage Town. Either the story is wrong, or the economics of this project are wrong. Maybe it's both.

  5. I hate to point out others errors, It makes me feel awful, but 10,000 a month rent is $120 thousand a year, not a million point two.

    Added to the Utilities of $8000 a month in winter (Ain't it always winter?) that is about $96,000 more or less for heating/refrigeration. So that's a little over $200k in just two bill that have to be paid each year.

    Add the employees salaries and other whatnot and I can see their dilemma.

  6. Well, it does seem like a crazy rent, even at the actual total of $120,000. It is a heartbreaking story. Dave White has worked his entire life to make Flint a better place. It's really tough to hear.

  7. I'm not going to click that link to Mlive because I'm sure the comments to the article will make me want to kill myself.

    Anyway, I'm not gonna say I didn't see it coming, it was never what you'd call hoppin' in there. It was a worthwhile endeavor, though, and I feel bad for everyone who stuck their necks out on this one.

    The bright side here is that the building, which they will, I hope, seal up *tight* once it's empty, has been redone, and will be move-in ready once the economics of the downtown situation catch up.

  8. Sorry about the math errors. I got all worked up. But even $120K in rent seems crazy.

  9. One might think that in this time of sparse real estate demand and salvage-value thieves, the property owner would rather have a tenant paying considerably lowered rent than an empty building to secure and manage.

  10. Sable, I was the one who had the math wrong! (never been my strong suit!). I hope they make it though.

  11. I doubt it's the poor selection that's hurting the store, ever since I could remember people have said they avoided downtown because it's dangerous. I don't know if it's dangerous now because I haven't been home in a long time but when I was living there downtown was pretty safe. I have heard of other towns in as bad of shape turn around but it took effort. I still have faith though!


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