After a long, uphill battle, independent Watertown grocer Dennis Breselow has finally given up hope that his Breselow’s Family Market can survive and has put the large, riverfront property and store up for sale.
Breselow said Friday he has hopes the property and building at 100 E. Cady St. will be sold on the commercial realty market and continue to be home to a grocery store. His clientele is a diverse mix of young and old that prefers to shop at a smaller, family run grocery store. He said it is possible to envision a specialty grocery store coming in to the site.
The other, full-service grocery stores in the city are mostly larger, chain stores, such as the Walmart Super Center, Piggly Wiggly and Pick 'n Save.
“We’ve been doing the best we can,” Breselow said Friday of he and his co-owner-wife, Pat’s business dilemma. “I don’t know. We need a miracle or something. We’ve put our building and property on the market and I’d like to see it continue as a grocery store. I’d also like to see the city do something to help smaller businesses survive.”
In the meantime, Breselow said he and his wife plan to do their best to keep their store's shelves stocked with food and other products, and are making sure that items remain in date.
He said one of the great challenges of operating a grocery store the size of his during a pandemic is that customer traffic slows down. This means that perishable items sometimes don't sell, go out of date and must be thrown out, leading to financial problems.
Breselow also said he feels too many businesses are leaving Watertown and cited the fact that Glenn Roberts, owner of Glenn's Market and Deli on West Main Street, recently made the decision to locate his pet treat manufacturing facility in Johnson Creek despite the fact he runs, perhaps, the most successful meat market in the city.
Breselow said his problems as an independent business operator in the past four years have been many. Breselow's has been in operation in Watertown for the past 13-plus years. He said the first nine years were lucrative, and fun for him and his staff, but the past four have been a nightmare.
The downturn in the operation, according to Breselow, began when the North Second Street Bridge was closed for reconstruction for 23 months. It reopened to traffic in August of 2018.
“That hurt us, because the people on the other side of the bridge ended up going north, to Piggly Wiggly,” he said. “Our sales went down, down, down.”
At the same time, Kwik Trip installed its third Watertown location at North Fourth Street and the state Highway 16 bypass. The addition of this business dealt a devastating blow to Breselow’s sales of last-minute items people might pick up on the way home from work, such as bread, milk, soda, beer, chips and salads.
“They even started selling chicken,” Breselow said.
As if those two challenges were not enough, a major refrigeration breakdown trashed an entire supply of Breselow’s meat. The inventory was covered by insurance, but the family still had to reinvest in refrigeration equipment, further hampering their store’s ability to function at full-strength.
Adding insult to injury, a “Stock the Shelves” benefit for Breselow’s, that had been set for April 4, was postponed due to the coronavirus. Attempts at rescheduling it never materialized as the spread of the virus gets worse.
The benefit had been set for Plattdeutscher Hall, and was to have featured a buffet dinner, DJ, raffles, silent auction, dessert bar, live auction and spring plant sale. The cost for the benefit event was $10 in advance and $15 at the door, with tickets available at supporting local merchants such as Oasis Salon and Spa, Lyon’s Irish Pub, Bradow’s Jewelers, Pristine Health, and Dave’s Turf and Marine.
“It doesn’t seem that (the benefit event) will even happen,” Breselow said Friday. “We were supposed to have it in April, but more and more, the coronavirus has gotten worse.”
Breselow recited a litany of community events that his store catered before COVID-19, with items such as cakes, floral arrangements and its quality meats. He said cancellations of graduations, confirmations, first communions, the Fourth of July Parade and Riverfest, all dealt blows to his business.
“We are not like the big grocery stores in town," he said. "We are not just a grocery store. We deliver to weddings and special occasions. We design what people want for their events. A bride might know exactly what she wants for her wedding and we can help with that. A bride may not have a clue what she wants and we can help her design something. We design what people want and the big stores don’t do that."
“My wife and I were talking and we've lost a lot of money,” Breselow continued. “We are being drained monetarily and spiritually. It’s been so tough."
Breselow said donations of gifts that were to be sold at the April benefit, as well as later donations and holiday-related creations from his floral department, are for sale at a special Christmas store within Breselow's called "Mrs. Claus’s Workshop." He said other money donated for the benefit event has been used to stock shelves at the store and for its overall betterment.
“The donations have allowed us to keep the lights on, stock shelves and take care of our remaining employees,” Breselow said, adding that 50 percent of his 20-person, full- and part-time workforce has been released from employment.
Breselow had a distinct air of dejection as he showed the Daily Times around his special Christmas store Friday.
“Like everyone these days, we are just trying to live from day to day,” he said.