A Clifton community group is contacting local and state officials to get help with the effort to reopen Keller's IGA grocery store in the Gaslight District.
The store, located on Ludlow Avenue in the heart of the neighborhood's business district, abruptly closed Jan. 6, shocking many residents and other longtime customers.
The Clifton Town Meeting (CTM), which serves as the neighborhood's community council, is working with store owners John Vierling and Charlie Dugger to help resolve the tax issues that led to the closure. Keller’s was hit hard by the recession and suffered a decline in sales due to increased competition from major retail chains, said Pete Schneider, a CTM trustee. Also, the aging building had ongoing maintenance problems.
During the economic downturn, the owners used their money to pay vendors in order to keep their shelves stocked and revenue flowing, rather than keeping current with their state and county taxes.
At the time of the store’s closing, Keller's had been working with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office on a repayment plan for part of its debt to the state when the Ohio Tax Commissioner Richard Levin, in a separate action, sent a notice demanding full payment of the remaining debt, an amount the owners didn't have on hand.
Levin has since been replaced by Joseph W. Testa.
“They are committed to finding a solution to their current financial problems and are working tirelessly to reopen as soon as possible,” Schneider said. “Earlier plans to reopen as soon as Jan. 7 fell through when a financing package that had been tentatively arranged did not materialize. The owners are working on alternative financing plans.”
Despite the challenges facing independent supermarkets, Keller’s believes it can revise its cost structure to return to profitability if and when the state allows it to reopen.
“There will surely be a role for residents who want to help return Keller’s to financial health, first and foremost by giving the store our business when it reopens, and we will pass along information on other ways to help as it becomes available,” Schneider added.
Keller's opened at its Clifton location in 1939.