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Big hole left by vacated Marsh supermarkets hasn’t been filled in 5 years

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Five years ago this month, Marsh announced it would close its supermarkets’ doors for good.

The closing of the once-dominate grocery chain vacated dozens of stores.  

One of the last Marsh grocery stores to close was at the corner of East 62nd Street and North Keystone Avenue on north side of Indianapolis. Two years ago, a church bought the building for a satellite campus, but not much has happened with this building.

Dozens of Marsh stores were scattered across Indiana. Today, some of the storefronts now look as if they closed just last week; others have been torn down. 

In a news conference announcing the sale of Marsh in September 2006, Don Marsh said that “all corporations have their ups and downs, and we have had a few.”

Keith Stark of Consortium commercial real estate said of Marsh, “They were the hometown grocer in the sense they were not the least-expensive out there. They were always a little bit better quality.”

By summer 2017, Marsh was out of fresh ideas to keep its stores open. Ten years earlier, Sun Capital had bought the Indiana supermarket chain after years of questionable management and executive spending left Marsh teetering on the edge of collapse. Despite a series of cuts and changes designed to restore the chain’s dominance, Sun Capital pulled the plug, announcing in May 2017 that Marsh would file for bankruptcy and close all of its stores. 

Stark has listed a few Marsh properties. 

“They didn’t close their doors. They slammed ’em. It was quick, and then, of course, the landlords become in charge of all the assets and many of the landlords, the owners of the buildings, got stuck with whatever the bankruptcy court decided. Kroger came in and quickly bought half, 13 or 14 of 26, that they turned into Kroger’s and to make sure their competition wouldn’t come in on top of them,” Stark said.

Some of the more profitable locations got new owners, including Kroger and Needlers. When the dust settled, 44 Marsh stores closed their doors, sitting empty and waiting for new life. 

One of them: the Marsh anchor store in Irvington Plaza.

In May 2019, the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County County declared Irvington Plaza an opportunity zone, opening the door to tax incentives and grants. In the two years since, little has changed; the former Marsh store remains empty.

At the corner of Keystone and 62nd, the Marsh was sold to a church with plans to expand. I-Team 8 visited the building in January 2019; all of the shelves, freezers and anything else that wasn’t nailed down had been auctioned off. Today, little has changed, the Marsh name remains on the side of the building, but there are no signs of the building coming to life anytime soon.

I-Team 8 found a half-dozen former Marsh properties sitting empty. The Marsh at Allisonville Road and 116th Street has been torn down.

Stark says taxes and the overall economics involved in these buildings is enormous. “The economics are much more complicated than anyone on the outside … ‘Well, why don’t you fill that space?’ ‘Why don’t you just put somebody in there?’ … It’s like, well, the cost to do that, first of all … ‘I’m underwater with just the taxes, mowing the lawn and things of that nature. I’m in a negative cash-flow situation and you want me to do what?’ You know, open up the building and turning on the … Some of the utility bills for a building like can be thousands of dollars a week.”

The Marsh in Greenfield has the Marsh sign attached to the outside, with Stark’s real estate sign draped over the front. He has leased a portion of the building to Sears and has a client interested in the other half. I-Team 8 was in the building recently; Many of the shelves are in place, the cash registers have been pushed to the front of the store, and the butcher department needs good cleaning along with the bakery and the front offices. An empty Marsh trailer for a semitractor sits at the dock. In one of the offices, I-Team 8 found a stack of store ads from the summer of 2017.

Stark says a grocery store of this size is outdated. “As a consumer, we’ve been chasing price and discount for a couple of decades now, and that is driving margins lower. You have to do more and more volume. You have to build bigger and bigger stores. You can no longer just sell groceries. You are chasing a specific niche of consumer, so on and so forth.”

Will Indiana see another local grocery chain emerge in Marsh’s wake ? Doug McCoy of the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University says probably not. “I think we kind of see that trend in a lot of our businesses where, you know, we tend to get nationalized in a lot of areas instead of having local ownership, and so I think it is an argument of why we really love and should support the best we can our local establishments. You know, they can be few and far between these days.”

Of the remaining Marsh properties, about a dozen remain for sale. Many are in areas that are now considered food deserts. The city of Indianapolis says it has no plans to offer financial incentives to prospective buyers.