When the Scott’s Food & Pharmacy completes its $5.8 million renovation in Chestnut Plaza early next year, it will also unveil a new name: Kroger.
Although Kroger Co. bought Scott’s 18 stores eight years ago, the local Scott family name has remained on numerous locations.
Feedback from focus groups initially indicated to Kroger officials that the Scott’s brand was valuable, associated with quality, cleanliness and a pleasant shopping experience. The Cincinnati-based grocery chain was in no hurry to tamper with strong customer loyalty, a spokesman said at the time.
But one by one, stores have been remodeled and transitioned to the Kroger banner. In more recent polling, shoppers haven’t shown a strong emotional attachment to the Scott’s name, Kroger spokesman John Elliott said. Now, the store at Illinois and Scott roads is the last location going by Scott’s.
"It is kind of a sad day, but it’s not unexpected," Cheryl Scott, a former Scott’s executive, said in an interview from her Fort Myers, Florida, home.
She reflected on her father’s company and the Scott’s legacy in Fort Wayne. She also recalled the challenges of keeping the retail chain relevant.
"You can’t (afford to) advertise for one store," she added. "And the Kroger name is big."
Long time coming
Steve Grashoff, a 27-year Scott’s employee, also worked alongside co-owners Don Scott and Bill Reitz. He wasn’t surprised by the news that the Scott’s name is fading from its last supermarket.
"Unfortunately, that’s progress," said Grashoff, who has owned and operated Peerless Cleaners since 2000. "The small family grocery businesses have had a tough time competing with the national chains."
The bigger surprise, Cheryl Scott said, is that the Scott’s name has survived this long in the local marketplace.
The Scott and Reitz families actually sold the business 24 years ago. But SuperValu Inc., which acquired the local chain in 1991, decided to keep the Scott’s name on stores.
Numerous employers have closed operations here over the years, making distant memories of family names including Tokheim and Berghoff, but it’s really been the retail industry that has been responsible for promoting some of the most locally recognizable family-owner names. They include Keltsch, Jorgensen, Maloley, Rogers and, of course, Scott.
Cheryl Scott, who retired from the grocery business in 1996, recalled that the Scott and Reitz families made sure during sales negotiations that employees would retain benefits and vesting in the pension plan. The executives also extracted promises from SuperValu that stores would continue supporting the community by raising money for the American Cancer Society and the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, fundraising efforts that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations.
But, she said, SuperValu bought the company name, so it had the right to do what it wanted.
Local grocery wars
The end of Scott’s closes an era when three family-owned grocery chains competed fiercely for local shoppers: Scott’s Food Stores, Rogers Markets and Maloley Food Stores.
"It was quite an oddity to have three local grocery owners. And people were very loyal to their store," Cheryl Scott said.
They considered it a compliment that SuperValu wanted to buy the company, a kind of recognition for all the hard work, she said.
The offer probably also reflected SuperValu’s growth strategy. SuperValu bought Maloley’s in 1980 and Rogers stores in multiple transactions in the early- to mid-1990s.
Scott’s led the local grocery industry on some fronts.
The chain was the first to install checkout scanner technology in 1980, and it was also the first to open a full floral shop inside a store in 1981.
But Scott’s did lag behind in one noticeable area.
The retailer was the last to open for business on Sundays. Don Scott, who died in 2008 at age 91, wanted employees to have that day to spend with their families.
The Scott and Reitz families had a strong commitment to employees and to the community at large, Grashoff said.
"Anything that came up, they jumped in and took care of it," said Grashoff, who is former co-owner Bill Reitz’s son-in-law. "I can remember us having volunteers to go out and fill sandbags."
The grocery chain also actively supported the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce, Rotary International and other civic organizations, he said.
Solid sales, support
But the grocery’s highest-profile contributions have been to support cancer research and the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.
Scott’s launched Cancer Day in 1979, pledging a percentage of the day’s total sales to the American Cancer Society. Those annual events are among Cheryl Scott’s fondest memories.
"We got the whole community involved," she said. "We had celebrity baggers and entertainment in the stores. Some people, that was the only day (of the year) they shopped with us. And some people held back for two or three weeks to do all their shopping then."
Local radio and TV stations did live broadcasts from the stores throughout the day, and the mayor always kicked things off in the morning, she said.
Despite what Cheryl Scott described as aggressive ordering to prepare for the event, stores inevitably ended up calling supplies such as Food Marketing Corp. to make emergency deliveries to keep stores from having empty shelves in the middle of the day.
"And the checkout line, you can’t imagine" how long it was, she added.
Although Cancer Day sales continue, they cause less of a sensation these days. Kroger has also continued annual Zoo Day donations. Elliott, the Kroger spokesman, said those events will continue despite the end of the Scott’s store name.
Another bit of Scott’s also lives on.
Grashoff, a former Scott’s vice president, said the former chain’s legacy is still alive in its former workforce, which now wears Kroger uniforms.
"A lot of those old Scott’s employees are still there," he said, "and they’re still happy."