Good-bye to Fresh Seasons
And other Marketplace closings
by Tony McReynolds & Sally Mitani
"What has affected us most over the years is the construction. Liberty or Stadium has been worked on for five out of the last six summers, and summer is our season," says Ben Stahl, who with his wife, Lynda, bought Fresh Seasons Market (then called Coleman's 4 Seasons) in 1994. The Stahls' lease came to an end this fall, and with the proliferation of west-side boutique groceries in the last five years, they decided to close rather than renew. With the just-in-time-for-Thanksgiving opening of Aldi, the jockeying for position is probably not going to be resolved anytime soon.
The Stahls, in their early sixties, also admit they haven't quite been able to nail the tastes and habits of younger customers. "It's been a pretty tough ride for the last couple of years," says Ben. "We're real solid with customers of our own generation." He and Lynda are well-traveled "foodies," he says, and they like high-quality but fairly unprocessed ingredients. They've had a harder time keying into customers who want more prepared foods and ready-to-eat meals.
The customer drain began as far back as 2004, when Whole Foods built its huge new store on Washtenaw and Trader Joe's took over Whole Foods' old space at Lamp Post Plaza. "What happens is Whole Foods is attractive to our high-end customers, Trader Joe's to our low end," says Ben. "We see a lot of people bringing in Trader Joe's bags."
Earlier this year they thought they had found a buyer for the business. "They were excited about it, we were excited about it, but then financing became a problem, and it dragged out," Ben says. The lease was up, and landlord Gary Colemansmith was offering only a five-year renewal. Colemansmith, one of the Coleman farm family, opened the store in 1986. (Coleman combined his name with that of his partner, Mark Smith, and moved to Washington state.) The Stahls made a brief attempt to find another location to buy them a little
more time to make a transition to new owners, but with so many parties involved, Ben says, "it all got sticky."
Long John Silver's, which shared space with Kentucky Fried Chicken on West Stadium, closed in September. "I don't know why. I'm just a shift manager," said the young man at the KFC counter. KFC now occupies the whole space. Both chains are owned by the conglomerate Yum! Brands, and the two have dual franchise arrangements in many cities. A media contact at LJS did not get back to us about why this particular partnership closed. A few informal inquiries among fast food aficionados suggests that the chicken was outselling the fish by a long margin.
When Cafe du Jour shut its doors in mid-October, the only explanation was a sign on the door that said the restaurant had closed due to the bad economy. Owner Dan Massey, who bought the restaurant from Tiffany Lynn Salsini in early 2008, was unavailable for comment.
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[Originally published in December, 2009.]