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Reid's is running out of food, out of customers and out of time

Reid’s Super Save Market is in trouble. Since last fall, the locally owned and operated grocery store on Preston Avenue in Charlottesville has struggled to fill its shelves.

Last year, the store’s dried goods and dairy sections were empty for weeks. Its owners have had to fight to find the fresh meat and produce they say has been their “calling card” for decades. In mid-October, a sign went up on the front door clarifying that, despite the lack of actual groceries, the grocery store was not going out of business.

“With low profit margins in the grocery business, it makes it extremely hard for independent grocery stores like us to operate and make ends meet,” reads the sign, still up today. “We hope to have the issue resolved soon. Please hang in there with us!”

In the meantime, attrition has eaten away at its staff. Since last year, the number of Reid’s employees has fallen from 25 to 15. There simply isn’t the money to hire more.

“All of our expenses have increased a lot post-COVID,” Reid’s co-owner Sue Clements told The Daily Progress. “There’s been an increase in product costs, there’s even been a 25% increase in trash pickup. It’s difficult to compete with big-box stores.”

In addition to the rough economic conditions, the store’s traffic has been on the decline due to the age of the typical Reid’s customer, she said.

Despite being blocks from the University of Virginia and just down the road from new apartments at 10th & Dairy, Reid’s doesn’t necessarily cater to the city’s growing pool of younger shoppers.

“Honestly, a lot of our longtime customers have died,” Clements said. “The neighborhood is changing, and it’s a different demographic in the surrounding area.”

Clements admits the store could have seen this coming, could have acted more expediently. The COVID pandemic wreaked havoc on the American retail industry. It brought brands big and small, luxury and pedestrian to the ground; the likes of Lord & Taylor, GNC and Dean & Deluca all filed for bankruptcy protection. It’s no surprise a small, independent grocery store in Charlottesville with an older customer base is struggling.

“There’s probably some things we could’ve done sooner,” Clements said. “We got ourselves into a hole that now we’re trying to dig out of.”

But Clements and her family, who have owned the store since 1982, aren’t the only ones doing that digging. In recent weeks, the community has rallied around Reid’s.

A GoFundMe created on Jan. 14 titled “Keep Reid’s Super-Save Market in the Community” had raised more than $13,000 with 160-plus donations as of Saturday.

Its creator, Charlottesville native Megan Salgado, said she grew up buying groceries at Reid’s but had started shopping elsewhere as an adult. When she heard the store was in trouble, she started shopping there again. What she saw inside worried her.

“I didn’t realize how empty the shelves actually were,” Salgado told The Daily Progress. “I was pretty shocked at how dire it was when I went in there.”

Salgado said she struck up a conversation with one of the Reid’s managers, who offhandedly told her that another customer had recently approached the owners about setting up a GoFundMe. The owners had not encouraged the other customer, Salgado said, they didn’t want to come across as “self-seeking.”

At home, Salgado said she looked for a GoFundMe for Reid’s but found nothing. She waited weeks, but her searches were in vain. So, she took matters into her own hands and created a GoFundMe herself. She made the Reid’s owners the beneficiary of the donations and set an arbitrary goal of $10,000.

The money poured in.

Bodo’s Bagels, Charlottesville’s iconic bagel shop with a location just across Preston from Reid’s, donated $1,000, still the top donation. A couple of anonymous givers contributed $500 each. Most donations are in the double digits: $25 here, $50 there.

“I don’t think that any of us, including the store, anticipated that there would be a pretty big rallying support around it,” Salgado said. “Obviously, the community is still showing up to support the store.”

That’s not to say there hasn’t been pushback.

Raising money to keep a business afloat has raised some eyebrows, especially after a year in which local charity organizations, including the Salvation Army, the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA and The Daily Progress’ own Santa Fund failed to reach fundraising goals. Users on Reddit and X, formerly Twitter, expressed shock when the GoFundMe was shared: “Raising $10,000 as a gift to a company is wild,” “Having a charity for a business is insane.” One user said the notion of a charity for a for-profit enterprise put a “bad taste” in their mouth, and another said that Reid’s would be better off raising it’s prices and playing by the rules of “simple economics.”

Salgado doesn’t see it that way.

“We’re raising money for a local, family-owned and -operated business providing essential resources in the community,” said Salgado. “It’s not ridiculous.”

Clements, meanwhile, said she can see it both ways. She knows no matter how much Salgado’s fundraising pulls in, it won’t be enough to keep the store afloat forever.

Clements applied for a business loan last week.

“If the loan doesn’t work out — although I feel confident it will — we will continue to look for other solutions to get capital into the business,” she said.

Clements said she is determined to keep Reid’s in her family, even though it didn’t begin that way.

Reid’s got its start in 1961, when Malcolm Reid purchased the downtown building that was then Stop ‘n’ Shop. He changed the store name, and Reid’s became a mainstay in downtown Charlottesville until 1982. That year, a fire downtown destroyed several buildings, including Reid’s, and Reid sold the store to his longtime store manager Kenny Brooks.

The store moved to its present location on Preston, and Brooks brought in his daughters Clements and Kim Miller to help run the business. Clements and Miller took over Reid’s after their father’s death in 2016.

“This is my mom and dad’s business,” Clements said. “I want to keep it going in an effort to not disappoint them. We’d like to be able to pass this on to our own kids one day.”


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