Earlier this summer, the owners of a longtime staple on the Wisconsin produce scene announced they will shut their doors for good at the end of September. Brennan’s Markets was founded 75 years ago and operates five stores around Wisconsin, including in Brookfield and Oconomowoc.
"The recession in '08 was a significant down turn in sales...but what happened was when the economy rebounded and customer confidence rebounded - our sales didn't," explains Brennan's Markets spokesperson Wayne Glowac.
Frank Brennan opened his first fruit stand on the corner of Highway 69 & 8th street in Monroe, Wisconsin in 1942. From that first corner store grew others retail locations and a cheese warehouse & packaging facility, which collectively employs 150 full and part-time workers.
"They provided a premium product and really amazing service. Throughout the Brennan family history, the concept was really to respect the customer, and that exists today through their unfortunate closing," Glowac says.
He says, it is this key tenet of respect for the customer and their relationships with vendors that influenced their decision to close. Instead of hiring liquidators, general manager Tim Culhane's response is: "That's not who we are. We're not going out of business to just make a few bucks in the process. We're going out of business with continued respect to our customers, as well as our staff and vendors."
"So it's really a company that's walked the walk and talked the talk," notes Glowac.
Brennan's locations will remain open until September 30, although Glowac notes the products available in the stores may not stay fully stocked. The company, he explains, was open with its staff and vendors about the closing before the official press release went out and is assisting its workers in finding replacement jobs.
As a company that always put the customer first, Glowac says it is bittersweet to have to close because of changing consumer trends. He notes that in the past a customer would shop at Brennan's several times a month, and before deciding to close, the average visit was once a month - at the most.
"We did notice and guess that people found other shopping opportunities. And there are a lot of other great stores out there, more so now than I think ever in history," says Glowac.
Although there is more competition in the grocery market, a big reason Brennan's decided to close was its lackluster online cheese sales. "That was kind of the straw that broke the camel's back, which really made the owners realize we need to do something," he says. "We're not going to bleed to death here, we're going to try to go out with our heads up."
Many would consider Brennan's a Wisconsin institution, and Glowac says, the company did not expect such a strong response from the community after news of its closing spread.
"The only negative comment I heard was, 'I wished we had heard from more of these people the last ten years!,' because it is bittersweet. But sales have been absolutely amazing and more than a few customers have actually come in and teared up," he notes.
"We hope we had an influence in helping people realize that there's a lot of great products that exist in our area...and I hope people realize that we should buy local. That we should respect the relationships we have with the people we purchase from, and I think it's an overall healthier way to live."