It’s a done deal. Wellington’s only grocery store is now Bella’s Market.
After several false starts, hard negotiating by all parties, and a property tax waiver by the Larimer County Commissioners, Bella’s Market of Denver purchased the building at 7650 Fifth St. from ZWZ Inc. and Main Street Market, including equipment and existing inventory, from Panhandle Co-op of Scottsbluff, Neb.
The real estate deal closed June 20. The grocery operation purchase was completed on June 25. A grand re-opening is set for Labor Day weekend, according to Bella’s President and CEO Sam Mancini.
“The focus was to keep the store open and get the citizens of Wellington back in there,” he added. “It is a good store, the staff is excellent, and we look forward to being a part of Wellington.”
Mancini said Main Street Liquors reopened Tuesday, June 26. The company also has leases in place with Good Day Pharmacy and Warren Federal Credit Union, which will remain open inside the market. Employees of Main Street Market are now employees of Bella’s.
“We’re back in business,” said Assistant Manager Travis Vieira, who is also mayor of the Town of Wellington. “The staff is all very relieved, morale is high, and there is a lot of excitement about the new ownership.”
Bella’s Market operates seven stores in eastern Colorado and one in Kansas. The company was created in 2005 with the purchase of Odell’s Supers in Akron, and expanded in 2007 through the acquisition of SuperFoods. The stores carry the ShurFine and ShurFresh lines of products as well as national brands.
“I have been nothing but impressed by the way the new owners operate,” Vieira said. “We all want to succeed, and they will give us the opportunity to be successful, in our jobs and in the community.”
Terms of the deals were not disclosed.
“I am glad we were able to make this sale to Bella’s Market happen,” said Robert Pile, president of Panhandle. “It will be good for the employees of the store and the citizens of Wellington.”
Panhandle pushed deadline
Panhandle announced in March that it could no longer afford to keep Main Street Market open after five straight years of financial losses. May 18 was supposed to be the day the doors closed, but public outcry helped push that deadline back.
The Save Our Store petition drive collected hundreds of signatures and representatives from the community-wide SOS committee met with Panhandle executives “in the last hours,” according to Wellington Chamber of Commerce President Bill Schneider, to persuade them not to close.
Panhandle agreed to keep Main Street Market open until a new operator could be found — and it looked like a deal was close several times. Town Attorney Brad March was on the county commissioners’ agenda three times in April and May only to withdraw because the agreement had not been finalized.
“There were so many moving parts to the deal, with Delmer (Zweygardt, majority owner of ZWZ) and Panhandle and Sam (Mancini), and their lawyers,” Brinkhoff said. “I can’t tell you how many times I heard there would be a deal by Friday that never happened.”
Since it opened in 2006, Main Street Market has supported local nonprofits, including the Boys & Girls Club, Wellington Public Library, Wellington Food Bank and all the elementary schools as well as Wellington Middle School. According to its website, in the last three years, Bella’s Market has given over $120,000 to all of its communities combined. It expects to continue that giving campaign.
“The Town of Wellington and Larimer County were of great assistance in making it happen for us,” Mancini said in a prepared statement.
Tax waiver approved
The Wellington Town Board approved both the transfer of the license for Main Street Liquors and the terms of the tax waiver at its June 12 meeting, pending approval by the county commissioners at their weekly meeting on June 19.
Under the terms of the agreement, property taxes for the store will be waived for 2013 and 2014 in exchange for Bella’s agreeing to operate the grocery for five years.
Wellington officials estimate the taxes total $49,000 per year, $13,000 of which go to the town; the remainder is spilt between Larimer County and Poudre School District. The market has been the largest taxpayer in town since it opened in 2006, and the lost revenue will be felt.
“Wellington can’t survive without a local grocery store,” Town Board member Jack Brinkhoff said in April. “The Town Board is willing to do whatever it takes to keep one here.”
The commissioners agreed to the tax waiver on a 2-to-1 vote. Commissioner Steve Johnson said he was opposed to settling any “bogus” lawsuit, even though the threat of legal action by ZWZ was considered minimal by March.
The threat arose over Enterprise Zone tax credits to which the developer was entitled but never claimed after constructing the building in 2005. Whether town or county officials were under any obligation to facilitate ZWZ’s application for the credit is unclear, but ZWZ agreed not to pursue the point in return for the tax abatement that paved the way for the purchase by Bella’s.
While voting for the agreement, Commissioner Lew Gaiter III, who represents Wellington, asked what happens after two years, when Bella’s has to begin paying property taxes.
“That’s a very good question,” Lorentzen told the commissioners. “They have agreed to stay open for five years, no matter what.”
It all depends on whether the Wellington community supports its local grocery store by shopping there, according to Brinkhoff.
Vieira said that he hopes people now realize how important it is to have a grocery store in town.
“When they see the direct mail ad from Bella’s, they’ll see we’re very competitive with prices and products,” he added. “We’ll be offering some products we didn’t have before, so people will have a reason to shop here more.”