Longtime Avenue grocery operation closes, will be replaced by international grocer

Michael Bushnell

After an almost 48-year history on Independence Avenue, Snyder’s Supermarket will be closing on New Year’s Eve. It will be replaced by a new locally owned grocery store with an international flair.

The space has a long history of supplying Northeast residents with groceries. In 1956, construction began on a buff brick building at the northwest corner of Independence and Montgall avenues, on the site of the James R. Mackenzie mansion and later the Northeast Polyclinic Hospital. In 1957, the ribbon was cut on the neighborhood’s newest grocery store, Kroger’s Food-O-Mat. The Kroger store operated for roughly 15 years until the early 1970’s, when the national chain left the Kansas City market.

William O. “Bill” Snyder was already neck deep in the grocery industry at the time, having operated three Safeway stores in the Kansas City area. Rather than take a relocation promotion with the company, in 1965 he opted to open a grocery store at Liberty and Walnut streets, just off the Independence Square. When an urban renewal project sealed the fate for that store, Snyder purchased the 2620 Independence Avenue location from Kroger and Snyder’s Supermarket was born in 1972.

The first ad for Snyder’s ran in the June 29, 1972 edition of the Northeast News,featuring chuck for $0.69 per pound, Pearl Beer for $0.79 for a six-pack and Butter Nut Coffee for $0.39 in a one-pound can. At the time, his primary competition was Thriftway, one at Lexington and Park and another at 6201 Independence Avenue, an A&P Store at Independence and Denver, and a United Super at Independence and Gladstone Boulevard.

Jerry James learned of the Snyder operation in 1988 when he was a representative for a major food line. He asked a good friend who worked at Associated Wholesale Grocers (AWG), one of the region’s major grocery distributors, about a management position with the Snyder operation.

“They’re good people, it’s a good store, you better go talk to them,” his friend advised, which is exactly what James did, and it led to a lifetime career.

Thirty two years later, after what James calls a “good experience and a great run,” he’s ready to hang up his hat and, in the words of longtime local television outdoors legend Harold Ensley, “It’s time to go fishin’ instead of just a-wishin’.”

When asked about the high points in his tenure at the store, James noted the ever-changing Northeast community and his family’s purchase of the store from Snyder in 2004. Bill Snyder passed away later that same year.

As for the low point, James paused and pointed to the permanent memorial to firefighters John Mesh and Larry Leggio, who were tragically lost in a line of duty fire next door on October 12, 2015.

“That about knocked the wind out of our sails, losing two good men who grew up in the area,” James said. “We were closed for almost seven months and continued to pay our people during that closure, which is something we’re very proud of. But it’s time to pass the baton to a new owner.”

On December 31, 2020, James will turn the lights out at Snyder’s for the last time in a store that spanned over 48 years, as well as a personal career of 32 years under the Snyder’s banner.

On January 1, 2021, local businessman Eddie Musallet and his team will have the keys to reopen the store under its new name and concept, El Mercado Fresco, or Fresh Market. For customers who have been inside the store in the last few weeks, they’ve no doubt noticed some major changes already under way, all in preparation for the new operation.

Musallet, who owns five Mercado Fresco stores in the metro, as well as a number of Express Stop convenience stores, is excited about bringing a new, more international concept grocery operation to the western portion of Independence Avenue. The 2620 Independence Blvd. store will be his sixth, with two more stores, one in Olathe and another in Wichita, coming on-line soon.

“We’ll have a much wider variety of grocery items that reflects the community we’re in,” Musallet said as he walked through the store with representatives from AWG, who are overseeing the store’s remodel and complete reset. “We’re going to be really aggressive in our pricing and our produce is going to be the freshest and best in town.”

Musallet also noted that fresh meat cases will be added to the store, as well as a deli case with freshly butchered meat, deli meat and cheeses, fresh seafood, and a bakery featuring everything from custom cakes and pastries to homemade tortillas.

But the store won’t just be a standard Hispanic grocery outlet.

“We want to carry imported groceries from other countries, not just Mexico,” Musallet said. “We really want to be a reflection of the community and make it a family friendly shopping experience.”

Bobbi Baker-Hughes, President of the Northeast Chamber and Manager of the Independence Avenue Community Improvement District was thrilled at the prospect of a new concept grocery coming to the Avenue.

“Kudos to Jerry and his crew for an almost 50 year career serving the Historic Northeast community and best wishes for a fantastic retirement,” Baker-Hughes said. “We are very excited about Eddie Musallet expanding his footprint on the Avenue and bringing an international grocery store to our Independence Avenue International Marketplace.”

The store may temporarily close over the next month or so in order to facilitate the relocation of refrigeration units and meat cases, as well as adding bakery operations. Some of those changes are already underway and store closure, according to Musallet, would be at a minimum.

A full scale Grand Opening and ribbon cutting is slated for later in the first quarter of 2021.

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