Earth Fare has turned the page on Chapter 11 and is inching closer to reopening its popular Westgate location.
The specialty supermarket at 3450 Westgate was acquired by a new ownership group via bankruptcy auction not long after it closed in February 2020, and it has been a hub of hushed activity since. According to district manager Rodney Schaff, the establishment could be open for business sometime this spring, as soon as city permits and other documentation are approved.
The inside of the store, which specializes in natural and organic foods and beauty products, has been undergoing a makeover of late, with new fixtures being added to house the variety of goods available. The store’s projected opening date has changed several times, due to both delays in outfitting it for use and making sure it has met all city requirements.
Schaff, who also oversees the North Canton location that reopened Dec. 16, said that the Westgate store is looking to staff between 50 and 60 employees and management.
“Earth Fare is under new ownership but carries the same food philosophy as the old Earth Fare,” he said.
Its return could be viewed as surprising, given that the company’s previous ownership, Oak Hill Capital, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Feb. 4 of last year and abruptly shuttered all 50 of its locations across the country. At the time, Oak Hill leadership said that debt and “challenges in the retail industry” led to the chain’s demise.
The DJ3 investment group, which owns the Fairview Park and Canton locations, is led by Dennis Hulsing, a retail and hotel developer based in Asheville, North Carolina, original Earth Fare founder Randy Talley and former Earth Fare president Mike Cianciarulo. Including the two Ohio stores, they own 22 in eight states. The Westgate location is one of three that have yet to open to the public.
The rest of the locations, mostly scattered across North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, were purchased by retailers such as Whole Foods, Winn-Dixie and Aldi.
Earth Fare will remain headquartered in Asheville, where it was founded in 1975. The new ownership group was quick to invest in the shuttered stores because it believed in the company’s health food mission. Hulsing raised $1.9 million to purchase four stores initially, then more were added between March and April of last year.
“We are starting fresh, with sound business decisions and a passion for clean, healthy food and a mission to bring healthy food to everyone,” said Betsy Bevis, the company’s director of marketing.
Bevis said the $4 million Westgate store, which first opened in 2011 and employed 115 people by the time it closed last year, was a “no-brainer” when being considered by management as a possible location to resuscitate. The Canton store, 3939 Everhard Road NW, was one of the most profitable in the entire company before Oak Hill filed for Chapter 11.
“The Fairview Park location had been on our list for a while,” Bevis said. “We evaluated the list of available stores to return to, their profitability and the market favorability for each location. The Fairview Park location fared well in all our evaluations and we received numerous emails and feedback from the community.”
For shoppers, expect the store to look and function similarly to how it did before, but with some improvements. Bevis said that more culinary recipes will be brought into the kitchen, while signature items such as artisan bread and chicken salad, made with antibiotic-free chicken and clean ingredients, will still be prepared in-house.
As much as area shoppers are looking forward to having the store back, the company is equally excited to return.
“We are looking forward to seeing familiar faces in our store, and to offer the best quality of products and service to the Fairview Park community,” Bevis said.
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