Anticipating golden days of retirement after years of hard work, Alan and Opal Klompus posted notices three weeks ago in their neighborhood grocery, the Woodley Super Market, announcing that the store would close at the end of April.
Since then, Opal Klompus, 62, says, the couple has received a number of objections from customers, many of them elderly or infirm, who rely on the store's telephone-order delivery service. Among those who have their groceries delivered, Alan Klompus said, are five sightless persons.
The protests might seem unwarranted, considering that there is a Safeway market only a block or so away. But, says Al Klompus, 70, many of his longtime customers have come to rely on his store's delivery service.
The store, Klompus says, fills an average of 250 telephone orders a week, which he figures constitutes about 65 percent of the business. Customers are charged $1 for the service, which Klompus initiated when Metro construction along Connecticut Avenue disrupted parking at the store. Klompus tries to limit deliveries to the Cleveland Park area.
He and the Cafritz Co., one of the owners of the property, are trying to find a buyer for the business who is willing to operate on a short-term lease, as Klompus has been doing for most of the last nine years. The property, a Cafritz spokesman said, is "underdeveloped" and they expect to sell it eventually.
Klompus said he will not sell the market if the buyer does not promise to continue the delivery service.
He said he is negotiating with a prospective buyer and has advised customers that his store will "continue to operate until the deal is finalized or falls through." If a suitable purchaser is not found, he said, "we will close it."
The Klompuses and eight employes--including two full-time drivers of the store's two delivery vans--know most of their customers personally. One said she has been shopping at the Woodley since she came to Washington in 1927. Klompus said the store has had only four owners during its 50 or so years in business. It is located in one of the city's first shopping centers to have parking space in front.
Al Klompus, who has two sons and a daughter, also talked about "the little kids--6, 7, 8 years old"--who visit his store. "I always say 'Hi,'" he says, adding that he remembers when the children were born, and how he weighed them on his scale every time they came into the store.
The Klompus family lives in Silver Spring.
Opal Klompus admits that she feels she is "deserting" her customers. She spoke of a phone call she had received the previous day from a former customer who now lives in Georgia. The woman wanted the Klompuses and their employes to know that her husband was ill.
Opal Klompus also pointed out that the market has its share of unusual customers, including several who telephone their orders "on certain days at the same time--they would not even have to give us a list," she said. "They order the same thing every week--same quality, same amount."
A native of Baltimore, Al Klompus has been in the grocery business for 45 years. He started with Giant Food in 1937 and rose to become a food buyer for the chain before leaving in the early 1950s to go into business for himself. His wife, he said, was "one of the first female executives at Giant Food," where she worked for 27 years.
Klompus' pride in his former employer surfaces when he boasts that the company recently became a "billion-dollar business" and a member of the Fortune 500. "I still have stock in the company," he added.
Several customers interviewed at the store last week praised its meat and fresh eggs. Louis Burnes, 35, the store's butcher for the last eight years, said some customers have already stocked hundreds of dollars' worth of meats in anticipation of the market's closing. He said customers have asked him to let them know where he is if he has to relocate. If an acceptable buyer is found, however, Burnes plans to stay with the store.
During the nine years he has owned the market, Klompus said, he has not had a vacation. He and his wife work from 8 a.m., when the market opens, until 6:30 p.m., when it closes. In retirement, he said, they plan to travel and to spend more time together at their "nice little place in Ocean City." CAPTION: Picture, Alan and Opal Klompus in their Woodley Super Market, 3519 Connecticut Ave. NW. They had hoped to retire by April 30. By HARRY NALTCHAYAN--The Washington Post