Country Mart owners Russell and Patty Clark have announced that the grocery store will close its doors permanently.

“After 23 years in business, this was not an easy decision to make, but the current business environment will not sustain our business,” they said April 3 in a press release.

Located at 616 N. Summit St., the store first opened in 1995. Since that time, the Clarks have been active members of the community who made countless contributions to programs and events, such as the Salvation Army turkey dinners.

They also created a prominent memorial garden following 9/11. With the help of Pike Construction, they erected a large flagpole that still stands in Country Mart’s parking lot.

“We will miss our friends and customers, and our great employees who have made our business a success for so many years,” the Clarks said.

No specific date has been set for the closure of Country Mart, but the store will remain open while prices are being discounted.

“We will be open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., starting (April 4) … offering deep discounts on remaining merchandise,” the news release states.

Country Mart won several awards through the years, including being named the Arkansas City Area Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year in 1997 and the chamber of commerce Small Business of the Year in 1998, a merit award from the Kansas Department of Commerce in 1999, the Governor’s Achievement Merit Award in 2000, and the CornerBank Community Cornerstone Award in April 2002.

Evelyn Shoup

Retired schoolteacher and current USD 470 Board of Education member Evelyn Shoup said she was sad to see the store closing.

“I have lived in Arkansas City since 1952. I have seen our downtown go from every storefront filled with home-owned businesses,” Shoup said.

“We could buy appliances, shoes, medications, jewelry, fabric, clothing. (There were) insurance offices, law offices, doctors and dentists at the AC Office Building. There were little cafés and restaurants, movie theaters, and furniture stores.

“It’s sad to see another locally owned and operated business closing.”

Shoup and her husband have shopped at Country Mart for many years. “We felt welcome there, (and) especially appreciated that the checkers were always ready for us and asked if we were ready to check out,” she said.

“Our items were sacked carefully and carried out to our car for us. The store was clean (and) well-organized, and items were easy to reach. Sad that our community is losing another place that so many people depend on.”

Shoup said she can sympathize with the Clarks. In the late 1980s, the Shoups tried to open a furniture store downtown, but later had to close it.

“The problem was that few people frequented our store. If we expect our local businesses make it, then we need to shop there and support them. It took us years to recover from our attempt to add to the downtown businesses in Arkansas City” Shoup said.

“You put your money, your time, your hard work and your dreams of having a store of your own into this, and to have to close is heartbreaking.”

Clayton Pappan

Local realtor and South Central Kansas Medical Center marketing director Clayton Pappan also said he was sad to see Country Mart close.

“From the hospital perspective, we can absolutely relate,” Pappan said. “Every business environment is more competitive these days. People are willing to travel farther or — in the case of retail — stay at home to do their shopping.

“SCKMC has had a great relationship with Country Mart over the years and will miss them as a local business partner.”

On a personal level, Pappan said he thinks closing the store is a huge loss for the community.

“The Clarks have been such a big part of downtown for so many years,” he said. “I wish them all the best.”

Pappan also brought up a point regarding residents’ spending habits.

“It seems every time one of our businesses closes, we all have the same knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “We are shocked. We read the paper, we post online about how much we will miss them, but in the long run, do we change our spending habits?”

“I hope that the silver lining is that this reinforces the need to shop local, to keep our dollars local, which can lead to greater things for Ark City, instead of just slowly watching our friends’ and neighbors’ businesses close their doors one at a time,” Pappan added.

Other responses

The public outcry over Country Mart’s closing was widespread on social media.

“Whatever the reason is, I just want to give a big thank you to Russell and Patty for the outstanding job and time they have put in at Country Mart, and for our community,” said Trish Rollins. “Country Mart will be truly missed. I can’t imagine how hard this decision was.”

“It’s devastating! Hate to lose this store — their employees are so friendly, always have a sacker and carryout, and always willing to help you with anything,” said Tammy Bain.

“Thank you for keeping the standard of great service to the customers! Your focus on courtesy will be greatly missed,” said Debbie Jennings.

“I hate to hear this. Country Mart is the best store we have in this town,” said Terry Stewart.

“I am so sad about that, Patty. I hope that you and Russell can relax and enjoy those grandchildren,” said Rags Smith.

“You are two of the hardest working people I’ve ever known. You ran a true hometown business, with the best customer service anywhere. I really will miss your store and you. Best to you in whatever comes next.”

“Such sad news. You and Russell ran a first-class home-owned business and will be missed,” said Karen Legleiter. “You offered such great deals and support for the community. I wish you all the best in this world.”

“I am really sorry to see you go. You made it a pleasure to shop at your store. The service was top notch,” said Jill Hunter.

“I always chuckle when my niece came shopping with me. Once, she looked at the carryout guy funny when he took off with my groceries because that kind of service was not normal in Houston. You will be truly missed. Thank you for all you have done for the community, as well.”

“You have been an asset to our community,” Hunter concluded.

“What a true loss for your community. You two always went out of your way to make sure your customers were happy,” said Melody Barr.

“My mother has shopped nowhere else for my entire life. As for me and my family, you were our No. 1 place to shop and you even employed one of my children. I can’t even imagine where I am going to buy my meat — yours was absolutely the best!”

“Your prices and quality helped our family through hard times, and all of this was delivered with a kind word and smile. Our family will truly miss you. May God bless you in your next adventure,” Barr added.

“This will be a big loss to our community. The owners are really great people that did a lot for this community,” said Nathan Niles. “A lot of it was behind the scenes and they never asked for notoriety.”