GENOA – Running the Taqueria Bravo has become more difficult for Javier Puga Paz in the past week.
Paz, who helps run the Genoa restaurant with his family, no longer can walk next door to Genoa Produce Carniceria, or drive less than a mile to Browns’ County Market, to pick up ingredients and supplies. Both stores closed within days of each other, leaving the Genoa-Kingston area without a grocery store.
Browns’, which closed Thursday, and Genoa Produce Carniceria, 530 E. Main St., which closed Monday, have left Paz and his family no choice but to drive to Belvidere to pick up what they need for the restaurant.
“It’s going to be a little more expensive,” he said. “It’s going to be hard on everyone.”
Residents and business owners have started to notice the hole in the community left by the rapid closure of their only grocery stores.
Debbie Heiman, owner of Everything Floral in Genoa, said she would shop at Browns’ for her business, but the store was more important as her personal source for food. As a Kingston resident, she said she tries her best to support all the local businesses and shopped exclusively at Browns’ for her groceries.
“My husband has been complaining every day about it,” Heiman said. “We’ve been in mourning for a week.”
Dan Brown, owner of Browns’ County Market, said sales took a turn for the worse in 2009 when the economy plummeted. Sales dropped to 2005 levels, the year the location opened, and never rebounded, he said.
The food industry as a whole has struggled, he said, and it has become more difficult to compete with the entry of big-box chains such as Walmart joining the grocery market.
“It was a sad deal, because we had a lot of great employees and good customers,” Brown said. “But the economy has changed everything. People are doing things differently ... they will drive across the county just to save a quarter.”
One shopper who changed with the economy is Sharon Luxon.
Luxon, who Tuesday visited Eggleston’s Pharmacy – which will remain open and slightly expand in the old Browns’ location at 600 Pearson Drive – said she would sometimes shop at Browns’ when she came to the pharmacy, but she also made trips out of town to Walmart for larger purchases.
She said it made more financial sense to visit the Belvidere Walmart being the same distance from her Kingston home as Browns’.
“I wasn’t a regular ... but it’s a big loss for the town,” Luxon said.
In revenue terms, it’s roughly a $70,000 annual loss, according to estimates from Genoa City Administrator Joe Misurelli. The supermarket closure will leave a hole in sales tax revenues that helped city, school and park district budgets, which is why Misurelli said the city would work hard to fill the vacancy quickly.
Misurelli said the city would work with the chamber of commerce and Brown, who owns the building, to find a tenant. The ideal result would be another grocery store, he said.
“It’s a real loss to the community,” Misurelli said. “There is a strong market here, I think, for a grocery store with Genoa, Kingston and the surrounding areas. It was successful for some time.”
For some, the loss of the store meant the loss of a community.
Dorothy Quigley said she was a loyal customer and was heartbroken to hear the Browns “family” she came to know would be leaving. It meant the loss of jobs for 20 to 25 people, including one of her good friends.
It also means potentially dangerous treks south on Route 23 in dark, snowy and icy conditions during the winter, she said.
“I loved Brown’s. They were always very helpful,” she said. “I just wish I had more notice.”