Sunnyside Market set to close

Neighborhood grocery store closing after 15-year run

LINDEN HILLS — The approaching closure of Almsted’s Sunnyside Market near 44th Street and France Avenue is stirring up nearby residents concerned about the encroachment of grocer Lund Food Holdings.

The neighborhood market will shut its doors Sept. 15 after 15 years of business. Owner Jim Almsted said he’s upset about closing the store, one of three in the metro area that bear his name, but business has struggled recently as more grocers have popped up in the area.

“I’ve been losing money in here pretty consistently for the last couple of years and I just couldn’t continue to do that,” Almsted said frankly while sitting in a cramped little office in the back of the store.

Almsted originally intended to sell the market, but said he wasn’t able to strike a good deal. He said he negotiated with Jim Kowalski of Kowalski’s Markets for more than a year, but never reached an agreement, largely because there was no job security for his 40 employees.

So he made a deal with Lund Food Holdings to interview his staff for jobs at nearby Lunds stores, the nearest of which is located near 50th Street and France Avenue. Almsted and his employees contend that Lunds is a savior, allowing workers to keep their wages and benefits. But Kowalski’s representatives said they were blindsided by the deal and many nearby residents are concerned that Lunds is swooping in to drive traffic to its nearby store.

Almsted is quick to point out that he isn’t selling his business — he still has two years left on his lease. He said he’s not sure what will happen to the building during that time. It will sit vacant for now, he said.

The building’s owner was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Lunds spokesman Aaron Sorenson said Lunds was not involved in Almsted’s decision to close the store.

“The decision to close that store was something he made,” Sorenson said. “Once that was made, he approached us.”

Sorensen said Lunds is always looking for new employees and will benefit from the experience of Almsted’s staff. Lunds was conducting interviews at the Sunnyside Market in late August.

Steve Beulke, an assistant manager at the market, was interviewed and accepted a job at the 50th and France Lunds. Beulke, who has worked at the market since it opened, said he could see that it was failing financially and wasn’t surprised when Almsted announced it was closing. But that didn’t make hearing the news easy.

“Even though it’s coming it’s still a sock in the gut,” Beulke said. “A grocery store to me — and I’ve been doing this for 39 years — a grocery store is like your second home. You’ve got a place to come to and your own little corner and when that goes away, that’s a tough thing.”

Beulke said he’ll be keeping his pay and benefits at Lunds. He said he’s grateful to have an opportunity to take another job.

One of Beulke’s longtime co-workers, dairy and frozen food manager Scott Knutson, said he would also be taking a new job with Lunds.

“To be honest I thank Lunds and Byerly’s for coming in and taking care of us because we would have been out,” Knutson said. “If it would have went anywhere else we wouldn’t have jobs.”

Angie Dutton, a cashier at Sunnyside Market for about a year, said she was hoping to get a job at a nearby Lunds. She said she thought Almsted “did what he had to do,” but noted that many customers didn’t think so. Just about every customer had something to say about the situation, she said.

Linden Hills resident Larry Peterson, who was picking up some food at the market for a fishing trip recently, said he was disappointed to hear the grocery store was closing. He’s moving out of town soon so the closure won’t affect him much, but said he used to go to the store once a week. Like many in the neighborhood, he was suspicious about the deal with Lunds.

“People in this neighborhood now really have to go to Lunds and Byerly’s,” Peterson said.

Kowalski’s Markets Chief Operating Officer Kris Kowalski-Christiansen said she thought for sure that Kowalski’s would be taking over the market. She was “shocked and disappointed” to hear that Almsted had made a deal with Lunds.

“We were absolutely set on purchasing it,” she said. “Somehow there was some sort of miscommunication.”

She said Kowalski’s would have interviewed employees for new jobs as Lunds is doing now. Kowalski’s will keep its eye on the store and other spaces in the area, she said.

Almsted, who initially sunk $750,000 into his market to get it started and gave it a $1.6 million makeover in 2000, said he is doubtful any grocer could be successful in the space.

He said not enough people do the bulk of their shopping at small markets.

“We’re kind of like the hardware stores in a way,” he said. “Everybody loves to have them but then they run to Home

Almsted said if the site were a prime spot for a grocery store, he wouldn’t be in this situation because his store would either be thriving or sold.

“If people really thought this was a viable location, I would have had an easy time selling it,” he said.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]