Jenifer Street Market owner Steve McKenzie’s Facebook post explaining his plans to move to East Washington Avenue generated a wave of support and appreciation from customers and neighbors of the small grocer in the Marquette neighborhood.
They hated to see the store move after 35 years, but would follow it to a location like the one he was eyeing, less than a mile away from the current location at Jenifer and Division streets, many of the 50 or so comments said in so many words.
“This is what a good local owner looks like,” one commenter wrote. “Transparency, cares about customers, wants to stay in the neighborhood and meet business as well as neighborhood goals.”
McKenzie reached out to customers on social media after Isthmus reported Thursday that he was looking at the Marling Lumber property on the 1800 block of East Washington Avenue after Schoep’s Ice Cream, the owner of his current site, gave him a lease that can be terminated with only a year’s notice.
That condition won’t enable him to borrow money for – or frankly, afford to risk investment in – the new refrigeration/freezer systems and loading dock the store needs, McKenzie said Friday.
The ice cream company previously turned down his offer to buy his store, McKenzie said. Schoep’s company officials did not return calls seeking comment on Friday.
“I absolutely adore the neighborhood,” McKenzie said of his current site. “There’s no place I’d rather be. But the longevity of the store depends on us becoming much more modern in energy efficiency and the logistics of being able to get product in the store."
A larger space on East Washington would let him offer a wider selection of goods and also increase the visibility of the store, now tucked away on side streets.
“If you don’t already know where it is, you’d have a hard time finding it,” he said of the Jenifer Street location.
McKenzie envisions a mixed-use development anchored by his market in a space about three times the size of the current 10,000-square-foot space. And while his finding a space on East Washington could be complicated by the siting of a public market there, McKenzie said he’s open to considering being in the same development as such a market.
As the Madison market is inundated with more corporate supermarkets, McKenzie’s little store has retained such a loyal customer base in part because he doesn’t have to operate under corporate rules, he says.
He is not limited on where he can buy supplies like corporate stores are, so he can use small producers, McKenzie said. That allows him to provide a unique mix of products and be more responsive to customers, he said.
“If customers want a product, we’ll get it. And we take the time to work with small producers to make sure they stay in business too,” he said.
For example, while talking by cell phone with a reporter Friday, McKenzie was at an Amish produce auction near Montello, about an hour away from his store.
Among the things he was buying were cauliflower, a variety of peppers and fall red raspberries, he said.
Customers will find them at the Jenifer Street Market this weekend.