Residents of the Sandtown Winchester neighborhood of West Baltimore have heard rumblings that an important supermarket serving their community, the Stop, Shop, and Save Food Market at North Monroe and Pressman streets, may close. The physical appearances of empty store shelves seem to suggest that the belief in such rumors held by some may be justified.

If the closing is true, select store employees who asked not to be identified said such will occur within the next two weeks, an apparent shock to the communities and employees that have come to rely on it. Furthermore, if such unfortunately does occur, the locals are also apparently concerned that they will be forced to make the trek to Mondawmin Mall, where the next closest chain size grocery store is apparently located.

Whether or not there really will be a closing and the exact date should a closing actually occur is not clear. Select employees at the North Monroe store said that if true, they had not been given a clear indication of when that date might be or even official word that the store would close. However, an expectation has nevertheless informally spread that the store’s shuttering is imminent.

A walk through the North Monroe Street Stop, Shop, and Save revealed shelves that had not been restocked for some time. A security guard at the store, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the AFRO that news of the closure had been in the works for some time.

“You could tell,” said the guard. “You can go in there and look around at the shelves and stuff and see. We haven’t been getting trucks in for weeks.”

A cashier at the same store, who declined to give her name, said she believes July 5 will be its last day. A manager at the store said he learned two days ago that the store would close, and while it is unclear how he was informed that would happen, he said the lack of goods to sell was a clear indicator.

“After this week, it will probably be over because I’m not getting any more product in the store,” he said. “There’s no more product coming into this place at all, so it’s done.”

The possibility of an impending closure means he and other employees may have to scramble to find a new job.

“I gotta go take care of my family, that’s my bottom line,” he said.

The Rev. Dr. Henry Baines, owner of the store, did not respond to calls for comment. Following the AFRO’s attempt to reach Baines, when asked a follow-up question about the store’s closing, an employee said, “I’m not supposed to talk about that anymore.”

Sherelle Witherspoon, president of the Habitat for Humanity Homeowners Association and an area resident, said she and her husband first noticed that the store’s shelves seemed thin back in November, and have been asking questions about the situation since that time.

On June 23, her husband Elder C.D. Witherspoon, president of the Baltimore Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition (SCLC), overheard a conversation in which several employees discussed the store’s imminent end.

Sherelle Witherspoon said that if the store should close, such would have a broader economic impact, pointing to a seafood counter that was bare and unstaffed.

“This young man, who was a good employee, has no job because they closed down the seafood department,” said Witherspoon.

The couple has tried to get Baines to meet with members of the community so area residents may learn the true status of the store’s continued existence in order to know if they should begin making other arrangements. 

“It’s just not fair,” said Sherelle Witherspoon. “I have built a relationship with some of the people that work at the counter and the employees who service this store and I feel like it’s wrong that he won’t reply back.”

“The community has remained supportive,” said Elder Witherspoon, “and I do think in exchange for their support, the very least one can do, is to reciprocate that by giving timely information. . . . I think this is going to catch an entire community off guard.”

Aside from local residents and the store’s own employees, other area businesses may possibly also take a hit should the closing actually occur. Tim Resch, a delivery driver with Schmidt’s Bakery, a local bread company, has been delivering bread to the store for 15 years. Asked about the financial implications for his company, Resch replied “I’m going to take a big hit.”

“I’m hoping somebody comes in here, but I don’t know,” said Resch “The neighborhood needs a grocery store. You’ve got a lot of people in the neighborhood that walk to this store, and your closest stores are a couple miles away.”

Elder Witherspoon says he will continue to reach out and attempt to secure a meeting with Baines, in hopes that the community might be able to get more accurate and direct information about the store’s future existence.

Roberto Alejandro

Special to the AFRO