Curve Market to close

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Curve Market and Deli will close within a month, and Steamboat True Value will take its place.

Both business owners announced the decision Friday and said a contract to finalize the deal will be signed Monday, a day before Curve Market's two-year anniversary.

Robert Ellsworth, owner of Curve Market and its building, Elk River Crossing, said he will keep the building and lease the grocery store's space to True Value.

After telling employees Friday morning, Ellsworth said the decision to sell is accompanied with mixed emotions because sales figures have been steadily increasing, but the independent grocery store struggles to compete with City Market and Safeway.

Steamboat True Value owner Dennis Swanson said he began looking for a new location when the west Steamboat hardware store outgrew its space more than five years ago. The privately owned and operated business has been in the same building since it opened 20 years ago in April.

Ellsworth said he has other real estate opportunities, and it is "time to move out."

What does this mean for the grocery store's 38 employees?

"It means we have a month more, and we're out of a job," said Curve Market General Manager Gary Cole, who has worked at the supermarket since it opened as Clark's Market on March 16, 1999. "It was a devastating blow to the employees."

"I'll be the first one out of a job," produce manager Bob Cass said. "When the produce goes bad, it's gone, and I won't have anything to do. I haven't had a chance to think about what I'll do then."

But most employees said they expected this.

"We've heard rumors for a long time," assistant produce manager Wayne Cole said. "We knew it was not a matter of if, but it was a matter of when."

"We expected it," checkout clerk April Wright said.

The closing of west Steamboat's only grocery store is not only a blow to its employees, but also to its suppliers and frequent visitors to the market and deli, such as construction crews from West End Village who packed the dining area at lunchtime Friday.

Chad Hazlett and George Straight work at West End Village daily and go to Curve Deli at least twice a week for lunch, they said.

"We like it because it's close by, and the meals are good," Straight said with a mouth full of fried chicken and macaroni and cheese.

To buy breakfast, lunch or dinner, Hazlett said he visits the store every other day. "I guess I will have to drive through the madhouse of downtown now," he said.

Curve Deli was the most popular part of the store, Gary Cole said. It succeeded even when it was part of the mostly unsuccessful Clark's Market.

Victor Whittier, who works at Napa Auto Parts across the street from Curve Market, said he comes to the deli almost every day.

"I don't understand," Whittier said. "All the construction and the new courthouse over there will be a big boost to this place."

Curve Market's closure also means dairy supplier Meadow Gold will lose its biggest account of about 30 buyers, said Bill Schlingman with route sales.

"We've had this account for years, and it kept getting better and better," Schlingman said. "It's a shame. We've been out hustling for more accounts -- good thing."

Though Curve Market and its suppliers have seen business steadily getting better, the store rarely saw the number of customers that east Steamboat grocery stores regularly had.

"I don't know why more locals didn't shop here," Schlingman said. "It's less crowded. You can actually walk down the aisle without running into other people's carts. It should have caught on."

Curve Market employees further questioned the closing as they acknowledged the current and planned growth for west Steamboat.

"All the development in Steamboat is on this side of town, so there will be a grocery store in this town eventually, and it will make money -- it just won't be us," Gary Cole said.

Swanson said the development of west Steamboat is another driving factor for moving True Value into the much larger and more visible location. The added space will allow for an improved selection of tools, electrical and plumbing supplies, housewares, paint and lawn and garden items. True Value does not stock lumber.

"We think it would be a more attractive and noticeable facility," Swanson said. "We think it would be an asset to the community."

Swanson co-owns Steamboat True Value with his brother, Wayne Swanson. Their family has been in the hardware business since 1945 in Chicago.

-- To reach Nick Foster call 871-4204

or e-mail nfoster@steamboatpilot.com

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