The Crescent Market, 122 years old and the state's oldest grocery, is closing its doors later this month as it faces the onslaught of two corporate upscale supermarkets opening nearby.
Robert Pemberton is the third generation of his family to run the grocery, which has operated in the Nichols Hills Shopping Plaza at Avondale and Western Avenue since 1948. On Oct. 29 that legacy will end.
“We started the day of the Land Run in a covered wagon on Main Street,” Pemberton said. “We are the oldest grocery store in the state. But over the past few years it's been losing money.”
Pemberton said he hoped to turn the tide by adding more organic and local produce and goods to his shelves a year ago.
Meanwhile, Pemberton witnessed his existing customer base shrinking due to the ravages of time and ever increasing competition.
“A lot of our customers have gotten older, they are single, or they have passed away,” Pemberton said. “And now everyone sells groceries, from Walmart to Target to Home Depot to CVS and Walgreens.”
Pemberton said he thought he could survive the long anticipated opening later this month of Whole Foods at nearby Classen Curve, a new retail center developed by his landlord, Chesapeake Energy Corp.
“I really would have worried more about a Central Market than a Whole Foods, because a Whole Foods is a totally different customer,” Pemberton said. “But I was not prepared for a Sunflower Market. And that's what has hit me the hardest.”
When the Sunflower Market opened at NW 63 and May Avenue, just a couple miles west of Crescent, the hit to Pemberton's business was immediate.
“It was right on our Labor Day weekend,” Pemberton said. “It made it just a regular weekend instead of a holiday weekend. Our sales were definitely down.”
The impact on Nichols Hills Plaza will go beyond the loss of a legendary grocery; Pemberton said he doubts his neighbor, Nichols Hills Drugstore, will find another vendor to supply fresh meat and produce for its lunch counter.
Longtime customers, employees and vendors say residents won't fully appreciate what they've lost until after Crescent closes. Pemberton's elderly customers could always relax on an ornate sofa in front of an actual fireplace as their health aides and assistants did their shopping. Crescent also is a grocery that still has employees to bring bags to customers' cars.
Picking through the produce aisle on Monday, Susan Parker lamented she has been aware a closing was imminent for the past few weeks.
“I've shopped here my whole life,” Parker said. “I shopped with his dad, and now with Robert. This is more like a boutique than a shopping center. It's the small things — the butcher, the care that you get. They were bringing in local foods.”