Pines Grocery Store To Close Feb. 4

BERLIN – The Fresh Pride grocery store at Pines Plaza, a neighborhood institution since the late 1980s, will close its doors on Feb. 4.

No reason has been given for the closure. Ed Dery, President, CEO, and CFO of Fresh Pride chain owner Camellia Foods Stores, Inc., refused to provide more information on the move. A short press release provided little information.

“He said he wasn’t going to answer any further questions,” a receptionist at Camellia Foods said.

The store, originally a Meatland store and then a Food City, was the only food store local to Ocean Pines for years. In 2004, the name was changed once again, to Fresh Pride.

Despite the name change and the improvements, the Pines Plaza Fresh Pride apparently could not compete against the new, larger Food Lion grocery store that opened nearby in 2007.

Fewer and fewer cars parked in front of the store indicated a dwindling customer base, and neighborhood speculation over the fate of the smaller, older and less well stocked grocery store centered on the common wisdom that the establishment could not survive the competition.

Fresh Pride is part of an independent chain of grocery stores on the Delmarva Peninsula and in the Hampton Roads, Va. area, with the parent company headquartered in Virginia Beach, Va.

Camellia Food Stores Inc. did $80 million in sales in 2007.

Store employees will be offered work at other Fresh Pride stores, according to the scant press release. The nearest Fresh Pride location appears to be more than 40 miles away, in Chincoteague, Va.

“I remember when that was the only store,” said Sharon Dlubala, owner of A Novel Idea bookstore in Pines Plaza. “I think it’s sad.”

“It’s just a shame to see one of the old businesses go,” said Carol Ludwig, executive director of the Ocean Pines Area Chamber of Commerce (OPACC). “They provided a service for the longest time.”

“That’ll be a loss to that community,” said Vivian Muir, a member of the OPACC Board of Directors.

Ludwig surmised that a variety of factors probably contributed to the closure. Consumers have become more sophisticated and expect more from a grocery store than perhaps Fresh Pride could offer. More year-round people and less vacationers, who, she feels, were more likely to use a nearby grocery store for necessities could also have contributed.

The Rite Aid’s departure for new premises at Pennington Commons probably hurt sales at Fresh Pride and some of the other businesses at Pines Plaza as well, she felt.

“I wonder, if the Food Lion wasn’t there, if Fresh Pride would have had the same problem,” Ludwig said. “I think that was the last straw.”

The lack of past competition may have made the grocery store complacent.

“For a long time there was no competition there, but that should not give any business the feeling they don’t have to improve,” Ludwig said.

As for a replacement in that space, which anchors the north end of Pines Plaza, Ludwig suggested that the community would benefit from a new tenant providing items locals otherwise have to go to Salisbury or Delaware for, like a major appliance dealer, or a volume seller like Sam’s Club.

“I don’t think we need another food store. The Super Wal-Mart is going to cause definite competition for Food Lion and Super Fresh,” said Ludwig.

Dlubala hopes that a new business moves into that space, but that it’s not another bookstore.

“I hate to see a big space like that empty. It looks bad for the shopping center,” Dlubala said.