HEMLOCK (WJRT) (12/19/2017) - Ric's Food Center is closing its store in Hemlock, leaving the small town without a grocery store and its employees without a job just days before Christmas.
The closure was announced on Dec. 6 and the store has been going through a liquidation sale since. By Tuesday, most of the shelves were empty while the store remained opened to sell off what little merchandise was left.
Tom Baumann, vice president of operations for Ric's, blamed the closure on changing retail habits. The store had been a mainstay in Hemlock for 23 years.
"We've tried and tried for years to keep this location open, and as a business decision, it's just not possible anymore," he said. "There's limited assortment stores, there's Amazon. People are changing their buying habits."
Employees are trying to make the best of a bad situation as they wait for their jobs to end less than a week before Christmas.
"I smile no matter what the situation is, but I've been down this road before," said Store Director Jill House, who came to Ric's after another store she worked at closed.
She plans to help her employees navigate unemployment and connect with Michigan Works! when the store officially closes. The company also is helping by offering a severance package, writing reference letters, helping update resumes and providing job search assistance.
"A lot of them are fretting about not knowing what their next step is," House said.
Longtime customers also are wondering what comes next. Ric's is the only grocery store within a 15-minute drive, forcing shoppers to pick up their essentials in Breckenridge or Saginaw.
Sandy Boyer has shopped at Ric's since the store opened and knows nearly every employee by name.
She is much more concerned about the employees, who she considers like family, than about the inconvenience of driving much farther to find a grocery store.
"They're like family, you know," she said. "Chris that's worked here in the meat department, he's been here since he was a kid."