Gordy’s Market, the Chippewa Falls-based, family-owned and operated grocery mainstay of western Wisconsin, underwent receivership and months of court proceedings after an August 2017 lawsuit brought by one of its grocery suppliers.
But the chain, having pinpointed six stores that it will continue to operate, has plans to regain the trust of its customers and bring an energetic presence back to its communities in 2018, Gordy’s CEO Jeff Schafer said Friday.
The turmoil surrounding Gordy’s Markets is the Chippewa Herald’s top story of 2017.
Community leaders have responded with overwhelming positivity to the December announcement that six stores – including Chippewa Falls, Lake Wissota, Cornell, Ladysmith, Barron and Chetek locations – would remain Gordy’s Markets under the leadership of Schafer family members.
“I’m thrilled for them,” said retiring city planner Jayson Smith, who’s worked for Chippewa Falls for 36 years. “I have been working with the Schafer family since day one. Gordy Schafer … worked very hard as a young man to build that store.”
Gordy Schafer and his wife, Donna, opened a single store on Chippewa Falls’ south side in 1966; the chain had grown to 26 stores, stretching from Richland Center to Chetek, by 2017. Going forward, the chain will now be operated by Gordy Schafer’s son, Jeff Schafer, with several members of the third generation of Schafers also working in the company’s administration.
“Gordy (Schafer) was at the forefront of building the foundation … of the things we’re seeing today. He supported bringing the Main Street program to the city, which has been an extremely successful program for downtown,” Smith said.
Gordy’s issued an apology letter to its customers in December, saying its “passion for growth and expansion contributed to us getting away from our core values” and that it had “underserved” its customers, but vowing to be “more connected, more responsive and more focused” in the future.
After the November announcement that the Schafer family would continue to operate six stores, a sigh of relief went through many small communities. Those included Cornell, which otherwise would have been left without a grocery store.
“There (was) a tremendous amount of anxiety that we weren’t going to have a store,” said Chippewa Falls Mayor Greg Hoffman.
Although he has heard some complaints from a few community members after the announcement, Hoffman said the positive response has far outweighed the negative.
“Gordy’s is one of those families, because of their community involvement, they have a tremendous following,” Hoffman said. “They’re going to have to work to (get) people to come back as they were a year or two ago. They know that. But they also know they’re taking the right steps to make that happen.”
A chain in receivership
After stores in Hayward, Chippewa Falls (Chippewa Commons) and two stores in Eau Claire shuttered over the summer, the chain announced in August it was heading into receivership under Wisconsin’s Chapter 128, to voluntarily consolidate its debt. Control of Gordy’s assets was handed over to Milwaukee attorney Michael Polsky, and throughout the following months, two main creditors emerged: grocery retailer Nash Finch and Settler’s Bank of Madison.
Stores in Stanley, Richland Center and Spencer closed immediately after the announcement; at a September auction in Milwaukee, stores were sold in Black River Falls, Osseo, Augusta, Whitehall, Shell Lake, Spencer, Rice Lake, Hayward, Chippewa Commons, Hamilton Avenue and Clairemont Avenue (near Shopko), both in Eau Claire.
In September, during court proceedings, it was revealed that members of the Schafer family were interested in purchasing six stores. At a November auction, the sale was made with the help of a loan from Nash Finch. In December, Gordy’s Market won a long-awaited victory when the sale was approved in Chippewa County Court.
Rebuilding a connection
Both Smith and Hoffman said they trust the Gordy’s administration to rebuild their relationship with customers, and praised Jeff Schafer, who returned to the company on March 1, 2017 and will continue on as CEO.
The Chippewa Falls City Council and city administration supports the Chippewa Falls company, Hoffman said. “If you’re going to have success as a smaller player, you need to have your niche marketing … And they’re working hard to create that.”
“I wish them all of the luck,” Smith said.
Jeff Schafer and other members of the Gordy’s Market administration will talk about the future of the chain in the Tuesday, Jan. 2 edition of the Herald and on Chippewa.com.