West Point Market closing imminent in Akron
AKRON, Ohio – Barren wine crates are scattered throughout West Point Market. Shoppers, as if they have lost a loved one, express remorse to workers. Bankruptcy proceedings are under way. And as the Akron institution prepares to close its doors, Bill Krauss can only be thankful.
“I just want to thank all my customers because they’ve been loyal,” said Krauss, who has worked on and off at the market for 10 years. “They’ve trusted us to give them good wine and the time to talk about good wine.”
As owner Rick Vernon was in proceedings Thursday to shift from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7, Krauss and other staffers were dealing with the remnants of the wine shop in the market on Shiawassee Avenue. The store’s final day, Krauss said, “depends on when we run out of things. For wine, it could be this weekend.”
“We did everything we could do,” he said. “It was too little, too late.”
The beginning of the end for the Akron store, co-founded in 1936 by Vernon’s grandfather, actually came in 2015. Whole Foods bought the store in the city’s Wallhaven neighborhood, on Ohio 18 near N. Hawkins Avenue and W. Exchange Street. West Point, which had been at the location since 1940, was demolished. Whole Foods and a line of other businesses and restaurants came in. And West Point prepared to move.
The idea was to create a smaller footprint, to focus on wine, cheese and other products that the store became known for. Skip the produce customers could buy elsewhere. They leased a building at 33 Shiawassee Avenue, just off Ohio 18.
In theory it was a good idea. But there was one problem in reality.
It took a year for West Point to reopen. And in that year customers created other habits. The market sits only two miles from its previous location, but in that span Whole Foods, Acme and Giant Eagle are among the options for shoppers.
It was shoppers’ habits that Rick’s father, Russ, homed in on when he ran the store. He had an eye for details; he chose a specific shade of exterior brick to resemble the inviting color of chocolate. He envisioned specialty foods long before they were fashionable. He knew the names of customers.
Not long after Great Lakes Brewing Co. opened in Cleveland, the brewery’s founders learned that West Point did not have a cooler for their non-pasteurized beer. So Pat and Dan Conway bought one for the market.
“West Point Market has always held a special place in our hearts because they were our first account but also because Russ Vernon celebrated quality merchandise throughout the store and was obsessed with exceptional customer service,” Pat Conway said Thursday after learning about the state of the store. “It was those attributes that attracted us to them to begin with.”
In addition to customer service, some things remained from the old place. Light classical music still played as shoppers munched on a multitude of cheese samples. Killer Brownies remained a top seller.
But in the year and a half since the smaller store has been opened, hours were cut. Wine inventory dipped from about 3,300 labels (about 10,000 bottles) in the waning years of the Wallhaven location to about 1,400 on Shiawassee. And the bankruptcy proceeding is a pivotal harbinger. While a company can operate under Chapter 11, Chapter 7 means assets can be sold off to pay lenders.
Krauss pushed for the new space to have a wine and beer bar. While “Beside the Point” did not stay open late, it offered a well-culled wine selection and rotation of craft beers. It also would list the dates tap lines were cleaned.
“It was a place to chill and taste wine,” he said.
When word got out this week that the closing looked imminent, Krauss said the market sold $4,000 worth of wine in an hour. He and his workers regularly helped customers with choosing wines for all price and palate points.
Wine will remain in Krauss’ future. The gregarious oenophile said Thursday he wants to open a wine store in the region.
We spent time with Russ Vernon in the waning days of West Point’s Wallhaven location in December 2015.