The cupboards are bare

Saturday, January 24, 2009 7:13 AM EST
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NORTH BRANFORD — The IGA Supermarket closed this week, as owners said they were unable to compete with the new Big Y Supermarket half a mile down the road.

Steve Andrikis, who operated the store for 18 years with his brother, Brian Andrikis, said the market saw a 30 percent drop in business after the Big Y opened in February 2008. The IGA, in the Central Shopping Plaza at Foxon and Branford roads, had heavy discounts on goods this month before closing.

“When they put the (Big Y) store in, it was our demise,” Andrikis said. “We tried to survive for about 11 months and it just came to the point where the bills were piling up.”

Andrikis said the IGA had about 40 employees who were laid off last week. Since then, some family members had been at the store to wrap up the closing.

The economic downturn affected the business, but Andrikis said he believed it would have been able to survive if not for the additional competition.

Andrikis had said Wednesday he was not sure exactly when the store would close, but it would be “within the next day or two.” By Thursday the doors were locked and no one answered the phone. The shelves inside were mostly empty.

During the planning leading up to the opening of the Big Y, many in town wondered whether the smaller IGA would be able to continue operating with a brand-new supermarket so close. In recent months, with the recession affecting North Branford businesses, there has also been speculation about the stability of the Big Y.

Claire D’Amour-Daley, vice president of corporate communications for Big Y, said she had been questioned about the store’s possible closing and said it was just “a rumor.”

“We have no intention of closing this store — it’s barely open,” she said. “It’s been a little over a year and is doing well and is in step with the normal maturation cycle of any market.”

D’Amour-Daley said there may have been overlap between the products at the Big Y and the IGA, but added there were other options for food shopping even before the Big Y opened, such as convenience stores, pharmacies or grocery stores in nearby towns.

Town Manager Richard Branigan said that he met with the IGA owners late last year and suggested they explore state support for small businesses. Branigan said town officials also spoke to the utility companies and plaza landlord about the store.

“At the time of that meeting, there weren’t a lot of options available,” he said. “We tried to do as much as we could, unfortunately, as it turned out, I don’t think that that was enough or it was not successful.”

Andrikis said he was not satisfied with the response from town and state officials. “Everybody else is getting bailed out, but for small businesses there’s no options,” he said. “There’s no money to be borrowed because nobody’s lending at this point.”

Branigan and Andrikis said they were not aware of future plans for the IGA space, and the landlord could not be reached for comment. The 50,000-square-foot Central Shopping Plaza is for sale for nearly $8 million, according to real estate listings.

Andrikis said he will be “actively pursuing a new career path.”

“I had more people crying on my shoulder during this last month,” he said. “We had so many great customers here and the ones that stuck with us, they’re devastated.”

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