The Eastgate IGA — one of the last neighborhood groceries in Butte — will shut its doors permanently in June, when the owners Bruce and Linda Collins plan to retire.
“Yes, it will close,” Bruce Collins confirmed Thursday, adding that their children considered taking it over. “Our kids kind of thought about doing it, but they decided they're not going to.”
Independent groceries like Eastgate IGA, 2005 Farragut, have a lot of competition. Sales, he said, have been “so-so.”
“It’s been challenging with all the big stores,” he added. “Everybody that comes in is bigger and newer. Everybody likes bigger, new stores.”
The Collinses, of Butte, have owned the IGA since 1988. They also own the Jefferson IGA in Whitehall, but it will remain open, he said.
At the Butte store, 11 employees — 7 full-time and 4 part-time — will be out of work when it closes.
While there is discussion of a potential employee buyout of the union store, Collins was hesitant to speculate on the matter.
“There’s been some talk of that,” he said. “When and where that will happen, I don’t know.”
The Butte Sheltered Workshop owns the building that also houses the Eastgate IGA. Executive director Mary Jo Mahoney said she learned about the impending shut-down on Wednesday.
“We were a little surprised,” said Mahoney, who expected family members to take over. “But they are very good people and they’ve been very fair to us.”
Mahoney added that the BSW board will discuss options next week.
“We’re going to be advertising for a new vendor to see if we can get someone else in there,” she said. “Until that time, we’re not really sure what we’re going to be doing. We’re just waiting to get going.”
Lifelong Butte resident and loyal customer Terry McGree, 56, was a bit taken aback when she heard the store will close. She has shopped at the Eastgate IGA for 27 years — ever since the Collinses bought it.
“It’s the type of place where if you forgot your checkbook, they’d bring it out to you — and they’ll tell you to bring the money tomorrow or later on,” said McGree. “It’s that small-business feeling that disappears with the Wal-Marts of the world.”
She grew up in that neighborhood before moving to a different part of town. She calls the employees friends.
“It’s a nice, small-town thing where everybody knows you and they ask about the kids,” McGree added. “I’m going to miss the people who work there.”
Bruce Collins has worked in the grocery industry since 1966. He was a Safeway manager for several years before buying the Eastgate IGA from Terry Kerr. Linda Collins has worked in the business since 1983, he said.
The Collinses previously owned the former Dillon IGA.