Jenifer Street Market orange juice (copy)

Owners of the popular Jenifer Street Market won a bid to purchase its own property as part of Schoep's Ice Cream's receivership auction.

Neighbors of the Jenifer Street Market have been wringing their hands over its fate after its landlord, Schoep’s Ice Cream, filed for receivership. But one of the popular market’s owners said he’s making an offer on the property.

“Yeah, why not, right?” said Steve McKenzie, who co-owns the store with a woman he wouldn’t identify.

About two weeks ago, Schoep’s entered into the receivership process, an alternative to bankruptcy that entails the sale of the company’s assets, after it lost two of its biggest customers. One of those assets is the Jenifer Street Market, which leases the 10,000-square-foot store adjacent to the ice cream maker in the Schenk-Atwood neighborhood.

The announcement set off a swell of concern from neighbors of the 40-year-old grocery store, with one poster on the area neighborhood Facebook page suggesting that everyone in the neighborhood pony up $100 each so the store can stay put.

McKenzie, one of the store’s founders, said he’s not looking for charity, and he’s ready to make a bid on the 10,000-square-foot building, which is assessed at $454,000.

This will be the second time McKenzie has tried to buy the store. About 10 years ago, he said, he made an offer, but the Schoep’s employee he was dealing with retired and his replacement decided to let the matter lapse.

“Things didn’t go particularly well after that,” McKenzie said. “Shoep’s took a very nothing-but-hard-business attitude towards us in every way.”

The court-designated receiver, attorney Michael Polsky of Milwaukee, said he’s currently reviewing all of Schoep’s assets, which will go to auction in coming weeks. He hopes to sell the ice cream plant as is, keeping its 150 workers on the job, but he’s not received any bids.

“As part of the receivership, all of the assets owned by Schoep’s Ice Cream will be sold and the court will hold a hearing to approve the highest and best bid for each of those assets,” he said.

Consternation surrounding the fate of the market prompted neighborhood alder Marsha Rummel to go to bat for the store by seeing if the city could help out through the Healthy Retail Access program. But that program is designed to help grocery stores in so-called “food deserts,” Ruth Rohlich, a business development specialist for the city, told WORT radio. And with the Willy Street Coop within walking distance in the neighborhood of pricy homes and other grocery stores nearby, the Jenifer Street Market doesn’t qualify.

Similar concerns over the market’s fate arose in 2014 when McKenzie eyed moving to another location nearby after Schoep’s changed his lease so it could be terminated with only a year’s notice, which made him ineligible for loans for needed equipment.

Since then, he said, he’s faced increasing competition.

“It’s a tough business,” he said. “Madison’s never had so many grocery stores.”

But he said he’s hopeful he can keep the store in the neighborhood.

“I’ve got many, many reasons,” he said. “I’m talking 20 very good long-term employees, and I’ve got a feeling I want to see this store last longer than me.”

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.