Grocery Discount Center in Atascadero to close in March

kleslie@thetribunenews.comFebruary 26, 2014 

A year after it moved to better accommodate a 99-cent store in the same shopping center, the Grocery Discount Center in Atascadero is set to close its doors at the end of March — largely because of the new neighbor owner Neil Benson hoped would be a boon to his business.

“I’ve decided to pull the plug,” Benson said Wednesday. “I want to thank all the people who made (the store) a success. … It’s been a pleasure, and I’ll miss the business and the people.”

Benson has operated the bargain-priced grocery store since moving to Atascadero in 1998. It was previously located at a 4,800-square-foot space at 7101 El Camino Real in the Vons shopping center but moved to the neighboring 6,800-square-foot space at 7075 El Camino Real in 2013 to make way for the 99¢ Only Store.

Though he originally anticipated the 99¢ Only Store would help bring business, it did the opposite, Benson said — many of his previous regular customers began going there instead.

“That really took a bite out of my business,” Benson said. “The drop (in sales) really surprised me.”

Benson declined to disclose annual revenue but said that since June 2012, his sales have been cut in half.

Once sales began to decline, Benson said, he was forced to start laying off employees. At the height of business, Benson employed 10 people; today he has five. Those five employees are all searching for new positions, Benson said.

Benson and property owner Jerry Taft also agreed in June 2012 to lower Benson’s rent from $7,500 per month to $6,000 to help make up for declining sales.

“I did everything you are supposed to do when sales are bad,” Benson said. “It didn’t help any.”

Now Benson said he will take a break from business for several months to catch up on his golf game, but he may look for a position in the local wine industry at some point.

He will not reopen Grocery Discount Center at another location, he said, because it is very difficult for small businesses to compete with big business coming into the area.

“What’s happening to me is happening everywhere,” Benson said. “Big corporations are coming in and knocking out mom-and-pop stores. Really, the strong survive, and the weak don’t.”

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