Blue Goose owner: St. Charles market 'fighting hard' to stay open
The Blue Goose Market has been a staple of downtown St. Charles since Paul Lencioni's great-grandmother opened the doors 91 years ago.
Now, the fourth-generation owner says he's "fighting hard" for the grocery store's survival.
Changing business conditions and an evolving local population have put the iconic supermarket in danger of closing, Lencioni said in a statement to the community Wednesday morning. Though he's not ready to put a chain on the door yet, he said, circumstances are dire and the store's sales numbers are unsustainable.
"The truth that I have been living with for some time now is that Blue Goose needs help. We can't continue without earning more customers and more friends," Lencioni said. "I'm asking for you in the community to trust us with your grocery business because we will not survive without you as a customer."
Several St. Charles business owners gathered outside the store at 300 S. Second St. to offer their support for the supermarket. It's easy to assume Blue Goose will always be around, given the fact that Lencioni and his family have been immersed in the community for so long, said Jill Card, owner of the nearby Jeans and a Cute Top Shop.
"I can't even imagine looking over here and seeing an empty parking lot or an empty building," she said. "This is the heartbeat of St. Charles. I really believe that."
Founded by Annunciata Lencioni in 1928, Blue Goose initially opened as a fruit store on the 200 block of Main Street. It has expanded and moved several times in the past nine decades to accommodate the city's growth and meet customers' changing needs, according to the store's website.
The supermarket's most recent relocation took place in 2008 as part of St. Charles' First Street redevelopment project.
In addition to offering various grocery options and take-home dishes, the store started holding summer cookouts and recently installed a wine bar that allows customers to order and consume an alcoholic beverage while shopping. The city council updated its code earlier this year to accommodate the concept, which Lencioni said creates an "elevated cultural experience."
The store is more innovative than ever, he said, noting it will soon be rolling out a grocery delivery service. But it still strives to maintain its local, historic charm.
"We are a team of great people here at the Blue Goose who absolutely love St. Charles, and we have been trying with all our heart, fighting hard to make Blue Goose -- this local community business -- great for our community," Lencioni said. "But the world is changing fast."
Waves of longtime customers are moving out of St. Charles, making way for a new generation of residents who might not know about Blue Goose and aren't accustomed to shopping locally, Lencioni said. The family-owned supermarket also is unable to keep up with marketing trends of big-box retailers.
The Blue Goose has been relying largely on cash contributions to stay afloat, Lencioni said, and his family has "sunk everything they have into it." Sales this summer have been particularly bad, he said, but the store refuses to cut corners or any of his 111 employees.
Making a public appeal for support was "incredibly intimidating," Lencioni said. Advice from fellow business owners and his board of advisers was split down the middle on whether he should share his struggles. However, he felt it was important to be honest with the community.
Representing the city council and staff, Mayor Ray Rogina said the city preaches the mantra "shop local" in hopes of seeing its small businesses succeed.
"We recognize the trials and tribulations of strong competition," he said. "We hope the Blue Goose retains its place among the quality opportunities for choice in our city."
Lencioni says his focus now will be on making more community connections and creating new experiences for customers. He will be on the floor of the store from 1 to 3 p.m. on weekdays to speak with community members about his situation.
"We're excited for the fight," he said. "I promise, we'll give this all we've got."