After just over seven months selling groceries and handmade baked goods, Flint Hills Market and Bakery emptied its inventory from its shelves Thursday and closed its doors in downtown Florence.
The market’s closure no doubt disappointed many in the community, including building owners Judy and Randy Mills.
“Everything happened so fast,” Judy Mills said. “We don’t know why she [business owner Jenny Lee] pulled out. It’s just so sad.”
Lee cited “personal reasons” for the closure, and stated the choice was not a “financial decision.”
“I love this community,” Lee said. “Our customers are what I am going to miss the most.”
Mills was quick to dispel rumors regarding the closure that surfaced and circulated last week in the community and online.
“There are probably lots of rumors out there and probably 98 percent of them are not true,” Mills said. “The eviction rumor is not true whatsoever. I am saddened that people would even think that. It was Jenny’s choice to close entirely.”
From the time they decided to remodel the historic building, Mills said she and Randy knew that they were not going to make any financial gain on the project. She said they restored the building because of their love for the area and the potential they see in Florence.
“We wanted it to work more than anybody,” Mills said. “This town really needs a grocery store, and it’s big enough to support one.
“We’ve always been advocates for Florence. We felt like the store would be great for the area, but we knew that it would not be any kind of a money-maker for us.”
In a seeming expression of compassion towards the community, Lee and her sister, Catie Zurcher, chief baker at the market, decided to donate more than 8,300 pounds of food to Marion County Food Bank and Resource Center.
Lee said 40 people appeared at the market Thursday morning to assist with transporting the monstrous amount of food in a flurry of activity.
“I honestly have no idea how many trucks they loaded but they were done in one hour,” Lee said. “There are some really great people here.”
At least three trucks towing trailers packed with food arrived at the food bank in Marion around 8 a.m. that day, according to food bank volunteer coordinator Kathy Henderson.
She expressed regret about the market’s closure, but called the sudden influx of foodstuffs “a small miracle for the food bank.”
“It’s overwhelming,” Henderson said. “I’m astounded. We’ve never had so much food in stock. We already started building more shelves to hold it all.”
The food bank also received a 780-pound food donation earlier in the week from the Prime-Timers, a Sunday school class from Aulne United Methodist Church.
Wanda Williams, treasurer of the group, said the class bought the food during a 25-percent discount sale at Flint Hills Market and Bakery.
“With the discount we paid $789,” Williams said. “The Lees are in our church family. It was a way to help them, and also a way to help the food bank.”
Henderson said the immense food donations will “be put to good use” feeding county families, but the fate of the former market is unclear.
The Millses have not given up on the idea of using the space for a grocery store.
“For the town’s sake, we’d like to see it open again,” Judy Mills said. “Originally, we wanted to keep it flowing together but you can’t find somebody that fast and you can’t make that transition that fast.
“In a perfect world, we’d have it open again right away. We just took a reality check and said, ‘Hey, we got to slow down’ Nothing is definitely set in lead.”
As for Lee, she said she plans to remain in the area and continue to work with her sister in a different endeavor.
“We’re keeping our options open,” Lee said. “We don’t know what the future holds, but Catie and I will be doing some farmers markets in the area.”