The only grocery store in Leetonia, OH closed on February 1st, 2014. Many residents drive 15-20 minutes one way to buy groceries. And when a grocery store goes down, it takes the town with it. There used to be 2 or 3 banks, a drugstore, a hardware store, and several other shops on Main Street-all doing brisk business. Since the town grocery store has gone into decline, all of these institutions have gone out of business.
I worked at the town's only grocery store as a meat cutter and manager until the day it closed. As I watched it decline, I saw a major employer leave town, and the town's only bank quickly followed. Every day, I heard my customers mourn these losses and complain that the supermarket was inadequately stocked and insufficient for their needs. Main Street was all but deserted for at least a decade. Only a few hardy shopkeepers remain, hanging on by sheer willpower. I have heard it said and verified it by several sources, that when a town's grocery store goes under, it takes half of the other businesses with it. People come to buy their groceries, and then stop at the drugstore, the bank, the post office, and the restaurants. If there is no grocery store, it makes no sense to remain loyal to the other businesses in town.
It didn't have to be this way. Leetonia, OH is less than 2 miles off of a major north/south regional artery highway with connections to the interstate systems of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Travelers on Route 11 have no opportunity to buy snacks and necessities between Canfield, OH and East Liverpool, OH- a distance of about 30 miles.
They have a proud industrial heritage. Leetonia is home to a Mitsuibishi heavy equipment plant, a trade park, and several smaller manufacturing concerns. Recently, the city remodeled the Beehive Coke Ovens---which is one of the best preserved industrial historic and archeological sites in the region. A fine bicycle trail has trail heads on the lower and upper edges of the town, and will soon be expanded to include a stop at the coke ovens park.
Leetonia is not ashamed to embrace its quirkier side, either. With recent Bigfoot sightings alleged nearby, it has become a hotbed for Sasquatch enthusiasts. In fact, next June, they will be hosting a Bigfoot festival with an estimated attendance of 1500 people or more-almost as many attendees as there are residents of this peaceful Ohio town.
Their library was recently graded by the state as one of the top 10 small town libraries in the state. Their schools were graded as excellent last year, and there are a number of parks and facilities for children and young people nearby.
Leetonia also has the fortune of being smack-dab in the middle of the Marcellus and Utica oil and gas exploration boom going on currently in Appalachian Ohio.
Without a strong commercial infrastructure, including a grocery store, a lot of the money made in Leetonia does not stay there. With a grocery store, more individuals would choose to keep their dollars in their hometown. I interviewed several of the other business owners in Leetonia's Main Street business district, and they are excited about the possibility of Cherry Valley Market, LLC becoming their neighbor.
In small towns, relationships are very important. I have built these relationships by listening to their concerns and by offering what help I could. Many of these individuals I count as friends. I know what their likes and dislikes are; what they prefer to eat, and how they view the world, and the situation in Leetonia, in particular.
I have dreamed and planned for a number of years about opening a grocery store. I have taken a few detours to get here, but now I am ready and excited to launch this brave venture. But the only thing that stands in my way now is a lack of capital with which to start. That's why I need your assistance and support to make this happen, and to stoke the fires of hope for a small town that desperately needs it.
Here is a video tour of Main Street:
Several years ago, I felt that I needed do something about hunger in my hometown. At first I thought about starting either a food bank or a CSA program, but, for one reason or another, they never materialized. Slowly, I came to the realization that the reason people go to food banks in the first place was because they couldn't afford to buy all of their groceries at the supermarket. It dawned upon me that if I could sell fresh, healthy groceries at a reasonable price, it might actually make a significant social impact on the issue of hunger in my area. I became a social entrepreneur as a result of this revolution in my thinking.
Founder, Bradley McHugh:
I have 3 years of grocery experience, as a meat cutter, deli clerk, and produce closing clerk, and am trained in management. I also have done an extensive amount of volunteering, including a 15 month term as the Vice-Director of Logistics for a large food pantry. I know food.
Director of Logistics, David McHugh:
He is one of the best improvisers in the business. With a broad range of experience in a number of fields, including grocery, maintenance, construction, repair, truck driving, etc., and as a gifted artist and creative thinker, bringing my father on board was a logical choice.
Director of Promotions, Samuel McHugh:
Sam is very creative, with an eye for strategy and image. He knows how to communicate a message clearly, and I am privileged to bring him on as a teammate.
So here's why we are asking for $30,000. It's very, very expensive to break into the grocery business, if you do it in the traditional manner. We have pared all of the fat we can out of the process. Cherry Valley Market, LLC is running lean.
Lease --- $1,000. This will cover the first month's rent and the security deposit for the building we are looking at.
Utility Deposits --- $800.
This amount will used to cover the security deposits for:
Gas, water, sewer, electricity, telephone, trash, and Internet.
Insurance --- $1,200. Insurance is a major expense for a shopkeeper. We must be insured against theft, property damage, accidents, weather damage...the list goes on.
Equipment Furniture, and Fixtures: $10,000
This is a large category, with a lot of small pieces.
Commercial hamburger grinder (used) $500
Commercial meat and cheese slicer (used) $500
3 commercial chest coolers/freezers (used) $1,500
2 commercial cooler/freezer units (used) $1,000
1 commercial side by side 8 ft cooler for produce $1,000
1 6 foot deli case $500
1 4 foot ice cream display freezer (used) $250
We are planning to make the store shelving and display tables ourselves--
Shelving--- (6) 6 foot long gondola shelves--- $600
(2) 12 foot long gondala shelves ---- $400
(2) produce tables --- $500
Meat cutting table (used) $400 ---these are expensive because they have to comply with the food handling and safety laws.
Commercial cooking range (used) ---$1,500
Commercial microwave (used) --- $500
Commercial chest freezer (used) --- $250
tabletop commercial vacuum sealer unit (used) $200
(2) printing digital scales (used) $200
Paper supplies, scale labels, and vacuum sealer bags ---$200
This is based on industry averages for stores this size.
The ability to make payroll for the first several weeks of operation is critical. I can work for free, myself, but I cannot expect my teammates to.
Permits and Miscellaneous: $4,000
The building we are looking at is in move in condition, but if the negotiations fall through, we need to be prepared to purchase building and remodeling permits, health department certificates, and to have a little wiggle room for unforeseen expenses. That explains the miscellaneous category.
Because we are running on a shoestring, any extra amount above and beyond the $30,000 will be greatly appreciated and used very, very carefully. We know how to pinch pennies, and we are fortunate to live and do business in an affordable part of the country.
We are currently looking at this historic location, which used to be the town drugstore, and, more recently, a pastry shop.
We are currently polishing up our layout sketches and will share them as soon as we are finished.
The money from this campaign will go to purchase needed equipment, supplies, and inventory; to secure leases and take care of necessary expenses that stand in the way of opening Cherry Valley Market, LLC's store in Leetonia, OH.
Risks and challenges
Like every new venture, there are a number of challenges. Some unforeseen disaster might strike-flood, fire, zombie attack; lumbago. Seriously, though, we have an experienced and knowledgeable team that should be able to handle just about anything that happens.
Some of our rewards may take a little longer than expected to ship or to be created.
We are still in the process of building our supply chain relationships, so stocking the store may take a little while longer than we currently expect.
We are early on in negotiations for a lease on a particular building, and we are confident that we will be able to sign a lease agreement soon. The landlord is reasonable and excited about our operation. But if this location falls through, there are a number of other commercial lease options in Leetonia that we will be able to pursue.
We are working closely with the governmental agencies that regulate grocery stores, but there is a possibility that we may hit a few snags and some red tape.
This is your ticket to our grand-opening party and an exclusive behind the scenes tour of our store and its operations. You are responsible for all travel, lodging, and other expenses incurred on the trip.