Declining sales, Walmart cited in Comet closing
By Brett Kriebel
CLARION NEWS Writer
Since 1972, Comet Food Warehouse in Clarion has served local grocery shoppers. That will all change in the next one to two months, when the longtime market staple is set to close permanently.
News of the store's impending closure broke Monday. On Tuesday, store manager Kayla Wonderling explained the reasons shoppers will soon be without the store.
"Our sales have been down," said Wonderling, citing ongoing road construction since 2016 as a contributing factor. "The business' decline has been going on for a while now."
Wonderling noted an unnamed company had approached Jefferson Wholesale owners Sam and Ben Levy about buying out the Comet store in 2011.
However, Comet's affiliation with Local 1776 Keystone State of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union blocked the sale.
"There's a clause in our contract that if the store is sold, it has to remain a union store," Wonderling said. "Because the company wasn't union, the union wouldn't drop that clause."
Wonderling believes had the sale of the store been completed, 80 to 90 percent of Comet's employees would still have future guaranteed employment.
"Instead of saving jobs, they wanted to get people's union dues," Wonderling said.
Clearfield's J.G. Food Warehouse is now the only Jefferson Wholesale store left standing.
Former Comet locations could be found in New Bethlehem, Indiana, Lewistown, Punxsutawney and Brookville. All have since closed.
Several Comet employees have worked at the store for decades, including Bob Reddinger, who entered into his 42nd year in 2019. Wonderling estimates 35 workers will now be out of work
An understanding of the importance of supporting small, local businesses is crucial to the survival of chains like Comet, but a lack of patronage at the store may have sealed its fate, according to Wonderling.
"People say about how important small businesses are, and they are," the manager noted. "But, there's no action behind it."
Wonderling also pointed to the ease and suitability of Walmart as a dynamic relating to decreasing sales at the store.
"I think they're just so much more convenient and everybody is in a rush nowadays," Wonderling said. "Walmart has a much wider selection than we do."
Clarion County Commissioners Ed Heasley and Wayne Brosius spoke with Wonderling on Tuesday at the store. The two officials also voiced their thoughts to the CLARION NEWS regarding the store's closure.
"It's just too bad that the store has to close," Heasley said. "A lot of local people shop here. They have a great meat department. It's going to be a loss to the community. Hopefully in time it will turn around and some good will come out of it. Right now there's still a lot of unknowns. It's something we'll have to work with."
Brosius reiterated Heasley's thoughts and supposed where one door would be closed, another could open.
"It's not our decision but it's definitely going to be a loss," Brosius said. "I shopped here regularly as well. It's going to be one less choice but it could open the door for something newer down the road. You never know."
In the meantime, Comet plans to institute a 20 percent off sale on items starting Aug. 19.