'I'm going to miss that store': Pa's Market customers disappointed Warsaw grocery is closing

Perry Cameron stands inside Pa’s Market, Warsaw’s only grocery store, which is closing. The shelves are steadily emptying in the store, which Cameron bought from his parents in March 1992. (H-W Photo/Deborah Gertz Husar)
Posted: Feb. 5, 2013 12:11 pm Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

WARSAW, Ill. — Just about every other day, Wahneta Buckert heads to Pa's Market to pick up groceries.

Soon, though, she'll have to head elsewhere, likely to Keokuk, Iowa, to get what she needs.

Pa's Market, Warsaw's only grocery store, is closing.

"It just finally hit the point where enough's enough," store owner Perry Cameron said. "If you don't have community support because you can't compete in pricing with big-box stores, you can't keep going."

Nearby Keokuk, for example, has four grocery stores, all with much more square footage than Cameron's store.

"It's just sad," Cameron said.

The struggle of small businesses, especially grocery stores, to stay open is common in many communities where residents work, and shop, out of town.

"Hamilton lost their grocery store. Now Warsaw is losing their store. Who's next?" Cameron said. "This leaves four grocery stores in the county -- Carthage, Nauvoo, LaHarpe, Augusta. Adams County has one grocery store outside of Quincy. That's sort of scary in itself."

With Warsaw's population of about 1,700, had each person spent $10 a week at Pa's Market, the store would have done $17,000 in business.

"We weren't anywhere near that," Cameron said. "At $17,000, we would have been able to keep a store open. It's a low-profit-margin business. You have to have the volume."

Despite the challenges, closing still was a tough decision for Cameron and his wife, Kim.

They know the community will lose donations and discounted products for nonprofit organizations and the school, the store's five jobs, the sales tax it generated, deliveries to shut-ins, and access to grocery items and fresh meat.

"There were good times. That's why I held on as long as I did," Cameron said. "You always have bad times which turn around, but it didn't. It kept getting worse."

Keeping open just a portion of the business, such as the meat market, is not workable.

"The store overhead is too high just for a meat department," Cameron said.

Cameron did the meatcutting himself, learning the skill from his dad, a longtime butcher, and catering to customer needs.

"If you wanted two pork chops, you got two pork chops. They really had good meat," said Shirley Rohrbough, who has shopped at Pa's Market for years. "Some people didn't use the store to speak of, but I did. My husband was in a wheelchair 40 some years. It was so much easier for us to get up there if we had to have groceries."

At one time, Warsaw had at least four grocery stores, but for years now, there's been only the one store.

"The building was built in 1966 for a grocery store. At the time, it was one of the bigger grocery stores in the area," Cameron said. "My folks bought it from the original owner. I bought it from my folks in March 1992."

Originally known as Country Food Fair, the elder Camerons renamed it B&C Market, for their first names, Barb and Clancy, then Cameron changed the name to Pa's Market "because I owed him so much money," he said.

For Buckert and other longtime customers, the store's closing is a blow.

"I shopped a lot at that store," Buckert said. "I'm going to miss that store."

So will the Camerons' son and daughter, Matthew and Jennifer, who worked in the store growing up and now own and operate Scoop's ice cream shop and restaurant, and Garretson's Bar and Grill just across the street.

Without a supplier just across the street, "we're going to have to up our inventory, which is going to be a little bit harder financially," Jen Cameron said. "If you're out of something, you can't just go across the street to get it."

When the store closes, the Camerons hope to stay in Warsaw.

"I've got some applications out, but I don't have anything lined up," he said. "Being in limbo is hard. We don't know what the next day's going to bring."