SCHNUCK STILL TRYING TO BUILD SALES AT INNER-CITY SUPERMARKET

ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- Schnuck Markets here said last week it is continuing efforts to boost sales at an inner-city store that had been slated for closing but which was kept open because of community pressure.to meet with local clergy coalitions and enlisting their help in urging consumers to shop at the store rather than going outside the area to shop.Schnuck said in August it would close three stores

ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- Schnuck Markets here said last week it is continuing efforts to boost sales at an inner-city store that had been slated for closing but which was kept open because of community pressure.

to meet with local clergy coalitions and enlisting their help in urging consumers to shop at the store rather than going outside the area to shop.

Schnuck said in August it would close three stores that had produced losses of more than $7 million over the past five years, including a ministore in Affton, Mo., and two combination stores in inner-city neighborhoods. All three units were among the 57 stores acquired from National Supermarkets in 1995.

The company reversed its decision about one of the inner-city locations in mid-September, saying it would keep open the 41,000-square-foot store at North Kingshighway and Delmar Boulevard, on the southern edge of North St. Louis, for at least six months -- a decision that followed a meeting with religious leaders in the predominantly black area. At the meeting, the community leaders had told Schnuck executives they would work with the company to boost the store's sales.

According to Schnuck, the Kingshighway store has three-and-a-half years left on its lease. If it does not become profitable by early next year, the company said, it will close the location.

"If there's a prospect the store can get back to at least break-even at the six-month point or if there's a positive trend, we're willing to give it a shot," Scott Schnuck, president and chief operating officer, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "The message [to the community] is to patronize the store in your neighborhood."

The store was reportedly losing $560,000 a year, or $2.8 million since its acquisition in 1995, the company told the newspaper. Besides the sales loss, the company also cited declining population and increased costs associated with a new union contract as factors in its original decision to close the store.

When the company reversed its decision, Schnuck told the Post-Dispatch, "Living in the community and being rational business people and knowing that we had a chance to solidify and open up a communication channel with a very important group, we listened to their plea and decided to give them a chance."

He said the company hopes to convince the community that the products available at the Kingshighway store are identical to those sold in suburban locations. "They claim there is a perception that there's an inferior grade of product that is shipped into city stores," he told the newspaper.

"We're not only denying that, but it's simply not true, and we're going to show them it's not true. Maybe that will help convince people that they don't have to leave the neighborhood for the suburbs to do their shopping."