DOUGLAS — It was a sad moment Saturday afternoon when Food City closed its doors for the last time at 5 p.m., signaling an end to a store that had been in Douglas for more than 20 years and put about 70 people out of work.
The store had been its present location in the San Antonio Plaza since 1999, moving from what is now the ACT Call Center on 10th Street, where it was called Mega Foods. Shortly after the move, it was renamed Bashas. In 2001, the name was changed to Food City.
Gilbert Suarez, store manager for Food City in Douglas, said this is a very difficult time, not only himself and those who were employed there, but also for the community which relied on Food City for groceries.
“What’s happening is very unfortunate,” he said. “I sure hope they (the city) can find someone to come in here.”
Suarez said whatever grocery items remained in the store after Saturday will be crated up and relocated to other stores. Though Food City needs to do some additional work inside the building, the store should be completely vacated by the middle of this week.
Martha Vidal, who has worked at Food City for about 22 years, ended her final shift at 3 p.m. Saturday. She was one of the last remaining employees to work the final day.
“This is very emotional, very heartbreaking,” she said. “I still can’t believe this is happening. I keep hoping I will wake up and find that it was just a bad dream, but it’s not.”
Vidal said she appears to have found another job at a store in Bisbee, but is waiting on her background information to be processed. If hired, she said it will be only part-time.
“I still need to find another way to support my family,” she added.
Eloy Gonzalez, who has been with Food City 19 years, said he’s having a difficult time finding employment in Douglas.
“I’ve been working here since I got out of high school, that was 2002,” he said. “I think it’s pretty messed up what they did to us. It’s like they don’t care.”
“That’s probably one of the hardest things about this, we’re all like family here,” Vidal added. “We love each other and watch out for each other.”
Both Gonzalez and Vidal are hopeful a new grocery store will come to Douglas and open at the present location.
If that were to happen, both said they would be one of the first to apply.
On Monday, Luis Pedroza, Douglas’ interim city manager, released the following statement in response to the Food City closing and what’s being done to attract a new grocery store to the area.
“Since the announcement of the Food City closure around late July and after the city’s meeting with Bashas executives that affirmed their closure and no intention of extending their stay in Douglas longer, the City started putting together information to approach grocers that may be interested in coming to Douglas,” Pedroza stated. “This information packet includes the full economic makeup of the community so that they can make decisions on real economic data. The city assembled a demographics and economic data packet that included Douglas’ potential service area (trade area) that includes Douglas and the surrounding communities of Pirtleville, Bay Acres, McNeal, Elfrida, Sunizona, Portal, Rodeo and the daily Mexican crossers population.
“The trade area for Douglas shows a population of 21,239 without Mexican national crossers. We then added 5,000 of the 10,000 daily crossing pre-COVID as an approximate calculation of Mexican nationals crossing the border daily and as a result the potential trade area for Douglas is 26,239. The data packet also included border crossing data from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the past five years, the city’s top 10 employers, median income, growth rate, city’s taxable food for home consumption sales in our city, available grocer space and general information about our community.”
Pedroza noted the city contacted three different grocers that operate in Arizona: Kroger, Cardenas Ranch Market and El Super Markets.
“El Super has already indicated that our trade area is too small for their business model,” the interim city manager said. “At this time, we are engaged in conversations with Kroger and Cardenas Ranch Market. We are also in the process of providing specific data requests for Aldi Grocery Stores.
Even though Safeway left Douglas about 10 years ago, we also plan to contact them to gauge interest. All the grocers that we spoke to so far were invited for a tour of our city. We think it’s important that they not only see our community on paper, but also view for themselves the potential grocer locations and the community makeup.”
In an effort to assist Food City employees who have lost their jobs, a Job Fair is being put on by the city of Douglas and Arizona@Work Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Douglas Visitors Center.