One more dream of returning to the neighborhood store — where kids crowd in to buy candy and their dogs get free biscuits, a place where they know your name and can start fixing your favorite sandwich before you order — has failed.
Tim Ketterling and his family are closing the 10th Avenue Market and Deli, just 16 months after they remodeled and reopened the grocery built in the 1920s.
“There was just no way. The economy just wouldn’t let me do it,” Tim Ketterling said.
He and his wife, Lori Kelim, and their daughter, Angela Ellithorpe, ran the grocery, while Lori kept her day job at Billings Clinic.
Before opening in December 2008, during the worst recession since the Great Depression, Ketterling signed a short-term lease with owner Terra Pierce with an option to buy. He just couldn’t buy when she wanted to sell.
Last summer, when Ketterling went to the bank, lending standards across the U.S. had tightened and loans were tough to find.
“They said our sales hadn’t grown enough. Short of laughing at us, that was it,” he said, smiling.
Pierce could not be reached for comment Friday. Last March, Pierce sold the Poly Drive Market to Scott D’Ambrosia and she has had a busy year moving another business, The Den. The bar and casino had to move three times during West Park Plaza’s remodeling.
Some of the reasons the grocery at 3115 10th Ave. N., isn’t surviving are standard — a lack of cash to last through times and not enough loyal customers. The store was also too small to carry enough products, and lacked the buying power of big box stores and chains.
In addition, the 10th Avenue Market hadn’t counted on 89 consecutive days of snow and ice.
“If it was too cold to walk, we didn’t see anyone,” Ellithorpe said. “But whenever the nice weather started, we started seeing the same people as last summer.”
Customers called ahead from work so their rotisserie chicken would be hot. The custom meat selection sold well, along with the beer and wine.
Instead of building the grocery into a profitable business they could either sell or pass on to family, Kettering is going back to making custom cabinets. His daughter is looking into a medical career.
Some half-empty shelves tell the tale. A single cranberry juice bottle sits next to a half-empty shelf of cereal boxes. And no Wilcoxson’s Ice Cream is left in the freezer. After selling off the inventory through March, they may donate the remainder to the Billings Food Bank.
Last week, the Ketterlings taped a lengthy explanation on their front door, so their customers would hear the news from them first.
Ketterling said he’s most proud of offering all customers a courteous personal greeting.
“We’re going to miss the customers tremendously, the kids tremendously and we’ll miss the animals tremendously,” Ketterling said. “Our treats for the walking dogs, now that was unique.”
As if on cue, “Bull,” a neighbor’s black-and-white Lab mix showed up expectantly, panting outside the front door underneath the “for sale” sign, waiting for a handout.
Contact Jan Falstad at email@example.com or 657-1306.