HART – After sitting vacant for three years, a new grocery store will move into the former Gale’s IGA building.
Owner Dan Ellis said Hart Village Market will likely open its doors for business around the beginning of next year.
Gale’s IGA grocery store closed Dec. 21, 2018 after 76 years in business.
The full-service grocery store will offer a deli and bakery.
“I’ve been working in stores since I was 13 or 14 years old,” said Ellis. After obtaining an accounting degree from Ferris State University, “an opportunity came up to open the (grocery store) in Fife Lake.” The Flint native owns Fife Lake Village Market near Traverse City, which opened in 2004, and Marion Village Market near Cadillac. He bought the store in Marion in 2019.
His family has owned a cabin in Fife Lake for generations, and he eventually moved to the area permanently after college.
With the competition of big box stores, Ellis said he is focused on “closing the price gap.” People who drive to Ludington or Muskegon to large stores like Walmart and Meijer are obviously paying more money at the gas pump to get their groceries.
“My goal is that if you bought the same $100 in groceries (at the large stores), you’d never get back your gas money. It’s not worth the gas.”
Another goal is supporting the local community. “My passion is really being locally involved, especially with school districts.”
Ellis is predicting the Hart store will bring 30 new jobs to the area.
The approximate 25,000-square-foot store is in the process of getting a new roof, and several other renovations will be taking shape over the next few months. The floors and much of the shelving will be replaced. “The produce department, we’re putting new cases in there.” New cases in the frozen foods, dairy and meat departments had been completed prior to the store’s closing in 2018, he said. “All of the walk-in coolers will get tuned up and new coils.”
The store’s exterior will be refurbished next spring.
Grand Rapids-based SpartanNash Our Family products will be sold at Hart Village Market, which is the same product line that Gale’s was selling prior to its closure, he said.
The new store will offer some new “technology pieces” that he doesn’t want to specify at this point. Loyalty programs will be offered, and establishing a fuel rewards program with the Hart Blarney Castle gas stations is in the works.
Continuing the sale of beer and wine at the new store is being pursued.
“High quality meat” is the store’s specialty. “Produce is another big focus for us. We like to be locally connected. We will be looking to make local supply connections with some of the farms to sell their produce.
“Fast friendly service” is another key component at his stores. “My goal is to get people in and out of the store as fast as possible. At Fife Lake, we run under 1-minute transactions on average.
“We do have a pizza program that we run, and we’ll probably look at running that program here also.” Thin crust pizzas can be made in 7 minutes, and patrons can buy pizza by the slice or an entire pie.
“I’ve worked for him since I was 18 — about 12 years — and he’s always been fair to me,” said Fife Lake Village Market Meat Department Manager Joseph Brown. “It’s become a wonderful place to work.” Brown will also work in the meat department at the Hart store. Selling fresh high quality meat at a competitive price is his focus.
“Cleanliness is a huge standard for us,” said Ellis.
Hart also has another full-service grocery store — Hansen Foods — on Polk Road. Adding a second grocery to the town will give the residents more choices, he said. “If we can capture more of those local dollars staying here, it’s more local jobs. (Hart) supported two stores very well for many years, and it will easily support two stores going forward.”
Hours at the Hart Village Market will likely be 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. but could be adjusted later.