A mechanical issue and a resulting disagreement has led to the closure of the Vevay IGA store.
Store owner Eric Rabe said that as of this time the store is closed permanently, and that it is his desire to find a buyer for the store so that it can reopen.
Rabe said that the meat coolers in the store experienced an issue on Thursday evening, and he and his staff responded by having their refrigeration person come in and fix the issue. Rabe said that the person stayed in the store until approximately 1 a.m. on Friday morning to ensure that the system was working properly, but an issue with a component again led to the coolers going down at some point from the time the refrigeration worker left and the time store manager John Brown arrived on Friday morning at approximately 6 a.m.
“He fixed it quickly and it was back on, and then they stay until they’re certain that everything is working,” Rabe said. “They let it go through a defrost cycle and all those things. By 1 a.m. the temperatures were where they needed to be and everything was in good shape.”
Rabe said that when Brown came into the store, he noted that the fresh meat case out on the store floor was a little warmer than it should be; so another call was made.
Rabe said that they got a hold of the refrigeration worker at about 8 a.m, and he quickly came to the store and fixed the new issue.
“In about 15-20 minutes he had it fixed, and the temperatures came back fairly quickly,” Rabe said.
Rabe said that his experience in the grocery business for over 40 years told him that it wasn’t a big deal.
“I know it wasn’t,” he said. “In my opinion, yes, there were some situations when things were higher than where they needed to be, but the question is: how long did that occur? How long was it there (at the higher temperature)? That’s where the main difference is. The refrigeration person game them his opinion that it was maybe an hour or two — a couple of hours. That differed from someone else’s opinion, who thought it could have been a lot longer.”
Rabe said that the second issue was a connector in the evaporator on the roof of the store, a “minor thing took them 15 minutes — and most of that was getting his ladder” Rabe said.
“It’s well within, what I’ve been told, it was well within the range for the time period from the refrigeration guy said — in my opinion — everything was in line.”
Rabe said that he was fine with and agreed with Switzerland County Health officials that some items needed to be disposed of. Rabe said that he wanted to donate those items either to employees or to area food banks rather than simply throw it away, because he felt that there was no danger to individuals.
Rabe said that on Friday morning in a meeting with Switzerland County Health Department officials created a controversy on what had to be thrown away, a disagreement that ultimately led to his decision to completely and permanently close the store.
“Things like eggs. Do potatoes need to be at temperature?,” Rabe said. “You can’t just blanket say, ‘Everything goes’. Every cheese item. Every egg item. That’s ridiculous. Up until seven or eight years ago, eggs didn’t even have to be refrigerated in grocery stores. I’m not a scientist, but I’ve been doing this a long time, I’ve been to a lot of food safety classes and stuff like that. It was the fresh meat, and that was taken down and put in the back and there was no way that we would sell it.”
Rabe said that the insistence by the health department to throw that food away is a financial hardship on his business, to the point that it doesn’t make economic sense to continue to run the store here.
“If we don’t get something resolved real soon, it will have to be sold,” Rabe said. “Then you have to have a buyer who would want to buy it, and there’s not a lot of independent grocery store owners who are buying one store towns like this — there’s just not the profitability there that was there at one time.”
Is there a circumstance where Rabe would reopen the store himself?
“If the community, which I think a large percent of this community realizes it’s important to have a grocery store in Vevay, if somehow, in communication with the powers that be, if we can rectify some things, get some things resolved. If the employees would still be around — then yes,” he said.
Still, Rabe wants to be clear: “I’m not asking for anything,” he said. “I don’t want a nickel from anybody. Not anybody, but it’s a big hit, and it’s at the point where it’s going to take the community to support that store and realize that if you’re not shopping there, then please consider it; and if there’s an issue as to why you’re not, then let me know.”
As a part of this story, the Switzerland County Health Department was asked for comment. In response, the health department issued the following statement:
“On the morning of February 28, 2020, the Switzerland County Health Department became aware of refrigeration issues at the Vevay IGA that occurred on February 27, 2020. After determining the timeline of the outage and the failure of temperature control, we determined that a large amount of refrigerated product had been compromised and should be discarded.”
— Pat Lanman