The company that owns Apple Market grocery stores in Rose Hill and Winfield has filed for Chapter 13 business reorganization. It's the latest independent grocer in the area to buckle under the pressure of competition and recession.
In the filing, T&T Markets claims nearly $550,000 in assets and $1.1 million in liabilities. The largest creditors are Emprise Bank, Associated Wholesale Grocers, South Central Kansas Economic Development District and the Kansas Department of Revenue.
Co-owner Tim Voegeli said the two stores will remain open and unchanged in appearance.
"As far as customers go, it will be business as usual," he said.
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He and his wife, Toni, opened their first grocery store in 1989 and at the peak owned stores in Andover, Augusta and Wellington. Apple Markets are full-service grocery stores.
The stores lost sales and market share as Walmart and Dillons expanded over the last decade, making it harder to reinvest in the stores, Voegeli said.
In Rose Hill, there are two Walmarts and two Dillons within 10 miles. In Winfield, his store is across town from a Dillons and a Walmart.
Despite the competition, the stores did OK because of convenience, service and customer loyalty, he said — until the recession. That's when people focused hard on price and started buying down, getting hamburger instead of steak.
When a recession squeezes margins, everyone suffers, even Walmart, he said. But the little guys suffer the most, while the big guys gain marketshare, he said.
"They can wait people out," he said. "If you are independent, your pockets are not as deep."
In February, White's Foodliner in Goddard announced it was closing. The owner cited growing competition with Walmart on the west side.
That's something Voegeli said isn't limited to grocery stores.
"You look at Wichita right now, whether it's grocery, hardware, pharmacies, there's a whole list of independent businesses that just don't exist anymore."