“Everybody is surprised. Absolutely everybody,” Fitzgerald said. “There are people who have been here since the store opened 50 years ago. We don’t know what we’re going to do.”
Fresh & Green’s has long faced a downhill battle as it struggled to compete with upscale newcomers such as Whole Foods and Balducci’s. After more than two years of dwindling revenue and no profit, parent company Natural Markets Food Group announced it would shutter all of the chain’s stores by Dec. 29.
“Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, the stores remained unprofitable,” Robin S. Michel, chief executive of Natural Markets Food Group, said in a statement. “We’ve reached the point at which continuing to operate these stores does not make financial sense for the company.”
The six locations, formerly SuperFresh stores owned by A&P, were bought by Toronto-based private equity firm Catalyst Capital Group in bankruptcy proceedings in 2011.
In the two years since, Fresh & Green’s stores have languished, failing to turn a profit, according to industry experts.
“It was a doomed experiment from the start,” said Jeffrey Metzger, publisher of Food World, a trade publication based in Columbia. Catalyst Capital “bought substandard stores that were significantly underperforming and unprofitable. And they spent absolutely no money improving them.”
Other SuperFresh stores — those purchased by Village ShopRite and Shoppers Food & Pharmacy at the same time — were renovated and updated, making them more viable in today’s market, Metzger said.
“Every other retailer freshened the stores and put significant capital investments into them,” he added. “Fresh & Green’s chose to do the opposite, and the results have been pitiful.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents Fresh & Green’s employees, declined to comment for the story.
On a recent Friday, days before the store was to close (although employees said they were not exactly sure when that would be), the shelves of the Fresh & Green’s in American University Park were largely empty.
Signs advertised 30 percent off bottles of water and jars of spaghetti sauce. Apple pies had been marked down to $1.99.
A handful of local residents walked through the aisles, stocking up on discounted goods.
Myron Norquist said he had been shopping at the store since 1970, when he first moved into the neighborhood.
“I’m very sad and somewhat puzzled,” Norquist said of the closing. “I’ll especially miss their bargains on wine.”
Longtime shoppers stopped to chat with employees, asking them what the future would hold.
For Barrington Marsh, 60, who has been working in the store’s seafood department for 15 years, the closing raises more questions than it answers.
“How am I going to have something to eat? How am I going to pay all of my bills?” he said as he stocked bottles during his last day of work Dec. 13.
“It’s a terrible, terrible time, right before Christmas,” the 60-year-old said. “I don’t know how I’m going to get another job right now.”