Once again another piece of my childhood is on the chopping block.
Once upon a time, Marsh Supermarkets was one of the largest grocery chains here in Indiana. They were my family’s weekly provider mostly because two of their locations were our closest options, and they seemed to have a better selection than the Kroger stores in our area. Or maybe Marsh was cleaner. Or had prettier newspaper ads. Come to think of it, neither Mom nor Grandma ever explained to me why we went there. We just did, and that was good enough for me. Come next month, they’ll be no more.
The company’s fortunes have been spiraling downward for years. My two childhood stores were both shut down years ago — one because its decaying neighborhood no longer cared to keep it going; the other because the rival Kroger across the street remodeled and doubled in size, selection, and relative awesomeness. Marsh in general has been notorious for its higher prices compared to its nearest competitors, an impression that worsened within the last two decades as Meijer, Walmart, and Target expanded their big-box dominion, muscled in on the grocer’s turf, and undercut their price points. Folks don’t mind paying extra at the Whole Foods and Fresh Thyme chains that have made recent inroads toward some of our more hyperactive commercial areas, but paying extra at Marsh yielded exactly zero net benefits, tangible or otherwise. Even taking their “Fresh IDEA” frequent-shopper program into account, they were barely competitive as far as the average penny-pincher was concerned.
At one point Marsh had close to 100 locations. Going into 2017, Marsh had only 44 still operating, including one rebel loner over in Ohio and its newest location in downtown Indy, which just opened in 2014 to capitalize on our recent young-professional growth spurt with expanded fresh-made options above and beyond their normal fare. To be honest, of late it had become a fun go-to for occasional last-minute stops on my way home from work.
Effective last week, eighteen of those locations have been sold — seventeen to some Ohio company I don’t recognize, the other eleven to Kroger, including my fancy downtown spot.
The other twenty-six stores have been handed their death sentence and have less than thirty days to live. Soon they will be ex-Marshes.
Last week, once the auction process had settled and the two buyers were satisfied with their choices, the going-out-of-business sales began with the first wave of discounts, mostly unremarkable. 20% is okay, not great. A few select items, including produce and what meager fresh meals they’re still cooking to burn off their inventory, are only 10% off. Non-food items such as kitchen tools and Tupperware are 30% off, but we’re full up on those.
It’s not often I get sentimental when a local corporation goes out of business. When Hoosier-born appliance retailer HH Gregg shuttered its overpriced operations earlier this year, I felt sorry for thousands of employees who lost their jobs, but also remembered my one and only experience with them, which ended poorly as an attempted Black Friday bait-and-switch. You’ll note there was no MCC obituary honoring their departure.
Marsh is a different story. Marsh was my first comic shop.
Back in the late-’70s, years before I’d ever lay eyes on an actual comic shop, Marsh still had the old-fashioned spinner racks with the classic “HEY, KIDS! COMICS!” signs on top, stocked from top to bottom with new titles and issues every week. Marsh is where I first discovered the four-color super-hero wonders of Marvel and DC, the dumbed-down kiddie fare of Archie and Harvey Comics, and the last table scraps of Charlton Comics on their way into bankrupt obscurity. At a time in the hobby when standard prices were 35 cents going on 40, comics such as The Flash #270 and Marvel’s Scooby-Doo #8 became my earliest prized possessions, and got me hooked on the heroes, role models, and father figures that played major parts in my entertainment, my education, and my very upbringing.
Marsh got out of the full-time comics biz in the early ’80s, so at my youthful pleading we had to add trips to the drugstore to our weekly errand list so I could keep my hobby/habit/obsession going. After drugstores followed suit and gave up on them, I switched to full-time comic shop patronage ever after and remain hooked to this day. But I never forgot that Marsh provided an easy entry point for me and doubtlessly countless others into the amazing world of affordable geek thrills in particular and reading in general. For that alone, they’ve reserved a permanent spot in my memory banks.
That doesn’t mean I’d describe my feeling toward them as unconditional love. Marsh hasn’t been my weekly grocery of choice since I moved out at age 21. When I was a young stupid adult, I couldn’t afford their mark-ups. When I could afford them if I wanted to, I totally didn’t. I was too budget-minded to pay extra for childhood sentimentality. I’m sorry to see them go, but technically it’s millions of folks like me who made their failure possible. Granted, executive shenanigans also played a part and didn’t help their image, but this piece isn’t meant to shift into full journalism mode and present the authoritative Marsh: Behind the Markets summation. Our local media have accumulated plenty of material in their archives on the subject.
This past Saturday I visited our nearest Marsh to see how the place was holding up in the face of imminent demise. One-third of the store had its lights dimmed and its shelving emptied or removed. The rest were fairly stocked, some dwindling more than others as (rumor had it on Nextdoor) a few suppliers had begun cutting them off weeks before the courtroom negotiations escalated. Their in-store bank appeared shut down some time ago. Their pharmacy was likewise kaput, famously so as announced last spring company-wide, which in turn meant they had to ditch all their hard liquor thanks to bizarre Indiana law.
The not-so-hard liquor was still on hand but moving well with the few dozen other shoppers around me. The 70-something lady in front of me in line had to wait patiently while the 15-year-old cashier — soon to be without a summer job — fetched the manager to ring up her alcohol. Behind me in line, a young Hispanic lady had three items to ring up — a bottle of wine, a pack of gum, and a greeting card. I was the only person in line apparently not ready to party.
Back in the reading-matter aisle, the magazine racks were two-thirds full, with some leftovers cover-dated April or older. The former racks for books and paperbacks were fully empty. As a token gesture to my memories, a clutch of unwanted, retro-looking Archie digests served as the only noticeable nod to the word “comic book” in any sense.
This time in July, the Marsh logo and the family name will come down from their walls, go down in the history books, and begin their slow fade from the local consciousness, except in us aging folks who’ll carry it with us a bit longer to remind youngsters of that weird bygone era when sometimes you went to stores that sold just food, not clothing and video games and ammunition too.
It’s my hope that the tossing of those last twenty-six onto the capitalism scrap heap won’t create any new food deserts, whether here in Indianapolis or in any of the numerous small towns they’re leaving behind. Then again, I’m sure Walmart will tend to some of those shortages if they aren’t already.
In the meantime, all I know for certain is Another Piece of My Childhood Is Gone and some small part of me wishes I were a little sorrier to see it vanish.