A longtime retail landmark is going out of business this week, marking another closure among food markets in eastern Whatcom County.
Bob Bromley decided last week it was time to shut down Bromley’s Market, which is near the U.S.-Canada border crossing at 315 Cherry St. Items have been selling quickly during a liquidation sale, so Bromley expects Wednesday to be the store’s last day of business.
The Bromley family has operated the grocery store for 57 years, and Bob Bromley said there has been a store on that property since1937, making the decision to close a tough one. It also meant telling 14 people they will no longer have jobs in the store.
“We wanted to continue on, but we couldn’t keep pouring money into this,” Bromley said. “It hurts.”
Bromley said slow sales the past two years and rising regulatory costs were factors in the decision to close. With the value of Canadian dollar expected to remain low this year, there wasn’t much chance of a sales rebound.
Sitting right on the U.S.-Canada border, Sumas businesses are heavily influenced by Canadian traffic. According to the Washington Department of Revenue, the Sumas food/beverage store category had nearly $1.1 million in sales in 2013, when the Canadian dollar was nearly at par with the U.S. dollar. In 2016, when the Canadian dollar hovered around 70 cents compared to the U.S. dollar, sales in the category dropped to about $745,000.
Bromley recalled four different times when the Canadian dollar had downturns, but his business couldn’t outlast this one. When the Canadian dollar is strong, dairy products are the most popular seller, although when the loonie gets close to par most any grocery item sells, he said.
The closure of Bromley’s Market marks another change in the grocery store landscape in north Whatcom County, particularly east of Interstate 5. Dodson’s IGA in Nugents Corner closed last month after a buyer failed to materialize. Outside of Lynden and Everson, much of the area is now without a traditional grocery store, although several convenience stores and small markets populate the region.
Cross border traffic remains strong. Nearly 3.6 million people have crossed southbound through the five Whatcom County border crossings in the first four months of 2017 – nearly identical to the first four months of 2016, according to the data gathered by Western Washington University’s Border Policy Research Institute. With the Canadian dollar remaining low, it’s expected that border crossing numbers will stay at this level, said Hart Hodges, director at Western’s Center for Economics and Business Research.
The Bromley family bought the store in May 1960, expanding the business in 1970 and 1982. Bob Bromley, who is also the mayor of Sumas, took over the family business in 1999, but has worked at the store since childhood. He’s not sure what he plans to do next; for now he is focused on getting the store through its final days. He’s spent much of the past week talking to customers, who say they are sad the store is closing.
“I want to thank everybody that has supported us all these years,” Bromley said, adding that he’ll remember most the people he’s met from both sides of the border.
He also hopes that someone else will open another grocery store in Sumas. Along with the residents, the outlying area could support it, he said. It is a capital-intensive business with low profit margins, however, leaving very little room for error.
“This town is growing and I think someone could come in and do something different,” Bromley said.