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Closing time: SV Foods is on the market

David and Shelly Vanyo purchased Spring Valley Foods five-and-a-half years ago with the hopes of owning the property for the rest of their lives. Now, the Vanyos say when the last item is purchased in their store, they'll shut it down. Matthew Lambert / RiverTown Multimedia

Five-and-a-half years ago David and Shelly Vanyo purchased Spring Valley Foods grocery store in hopes of having a business they could enjoy for the rest of their lives.

Around a month ago, the Vanyos slapped a "For Sale" sign on their front door, letting community members know that after they run out of inventory, the store will be closing.

Originally from North Dakota, the couple moved to Menomonie where David worked as a grocery store meat manager for four years. That grocery store was closing, so David was looking for something new.

The couple had lived in Menomonie for 13 years, but after purchasing Spring Valley Foods moved to Elmwood to be closer to the communities they served.

Initially, David said the grocery store was "a good investment" and the store's reputation and sales were promising.

However, a month after the Vanyos purchased the grocery store, Family Dollar opened right next door. A place the Vanyos say has really hurt their business.

"It took just about half of our business," David said.

The couple said the Family Dollar store is not the only reason they're choosing to sell the store, but also a lack of community support.

"Some of it, obviously, has to do with the community not supporting their local grocery store," David said. "A lot of them commute from the Cities and stop at the big box stores to buy their stuff."

The Vanyos say they've had people, not just from Spring Valley, utilize their store, but the numbers just aren't enough.

The Vanyos said they haven't reached out to the Village of Spring Valley or other businesses because they don't know if they can guarantee people will come in, even if they have financial support.

"Unless they can guarantee me $5,000 a day in sales and roughly 250 customers a day is what I would need to make my sales, to stay afloat," David said.

At the July village board meeting, Trustee Matt Huepfel asked if the Municipal Development Committee would consider looking into Spring Valley Foods and seeing what the village could do to help.

There was no mention of the village financially assisting the grocery store, but wanting to find a way to keep it an option for the village.

"What I'm saying is, I think it's viable, I think it's worth a shot," Huepfel said on the business.

"I think it's worth our time to reach out," President Marsha Brunkhorst said.

Trustees Mary Ducklow and Dale Jacobson said when the village was in initial talks with Family Dollar, David Vanyo was supportive.

"Here's the thing before when we had meetings on the Dollar Store, he was OK with it," Ducklow said.

"That's what I was going to bring up," Jacobson said. "Yes, he was fine with the dollar store."

Huepfel called the grocery store "an economically viable business." He agreed Family Dollar takes some business but the customers aren't necessarily synonymous.

"The reality is that, the dollar store does take some of their high profit things away," Huepfel said. "Generally, you see the people that shop at the dollar store are not necessarily shopping at the grocery store. They're separate people."

Huepfel brought up the discussion, but it was not an agenda item.

Shelly said the idea of asking the Village of Spring Valley for more community support didn't occur to them and that the Village is responsible for allowing Family Dollar to operate in town.

"It's too late to do anything about (Family Dollar)," Shelly said. "If that's the biggest issue that is taking our customers away from us, what are we going to ask for? What are we going to go to the village to ask for? It's too late."

The Family Dollar store sells a lot of the same items as the grocery store, the Vanyos said. Especially the non-perishable items. David said "that's where people make their money," off items like toilet paper and paper towels.

One of the biggest gripes from the Vanyos is the non-local connection the Family Dollar store has with the community. Spring Valley Foods has donated money and food to the Spring Valley Food Pantry, schools, cancer society, Boy Scouts and Lion's Club, according to the Vanyos.

"They don't donate anything to the community...people that shop there obviously don't care," David opined. "Even though I'm going out of business and my prices are 20 percent off, there are still people that go over there to buy groceries. I can't figure that out."

Shelly said the turning point for selling the business was finding two major refrigerators needed serious maintenance. With low sales and high ticket items breaking down, something had to give.

"We finally said we can't do this anymore," Shelly said. "The sales are not there to support what we're putting in to repair the refrigeration that we had to do...if you don't have the sales, you can't put the money back in."

"We've done everything that we possibly could," David said.

The Vanyos said they even went as far as giving away $25 a week away to a customer to try and draw in more business. The Vanyos did this for almost a year, where they would go up to $50 if it wasn't claimed, then $75, then $100. The Vanyos said there was no increased customer traffic to be seen as a result. Leaving the Vanyos with no other option.

"I had nine charities that we donated to and the whole idea was to have your charity come in, buy groceries, and put your receipt in from that charity and I write you a check for a percentage of the groceries that were purchased here," David said. "That did not increase customer count...I've tried a lot of different techniques."

Initially, the Vanyos said their sales were promising, but a steady decline affected them, getting to a point where they were making half of their initial revenue.

"I feel bad for the community, but I have to do what's best for my family, my interest," David said.

After selling or closing the store, David will join Shelly as an insurance agent for Aflac.

David it's almost impossible for an independent grocery store to stay open while competing with larger stores.

"There's so many little stores that just can't do it anymore because they don't have any buying power," David said.

The Vanyos are hoping a buyer steps forward.

David said the store will be closed by the end of the month, or maybe sooner depending on when they sell all of the products.

If interested in purchasing the store, call the Vanyos at 715-556-0819. For updates on the store, visit the Spring Valley Foods Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/svfoods/.

Matthew Lambert

Matthew Lambert joined the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal in December 2016 covering government, school board, and writing features about the community. He is a graduate of Winona State University with a Bachelor's degree in Journalism. 

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