This month marks four years since Daniels Sentry Foods closed in Whitewater, which left Walmart as the city’s main grocery option.
In spring, a Whitewater economic development official predicted a “strong possibility” the city could end the year with a deal to bring in a new grocery store.
But City Manager Cameron Clapper said Wednesday that official, Dave Carlson, resigned in June, and that has “hampered” Whitewater’s recruitment efforts.
The city has not yet filled the economic development position that was doing more “proactive” work, Clapper said. He and other city officials have tried to absorb more economic development work, which includes grocery store recruitment.
Meanwhile, city officials still are hoping to find the right match of an interested grocer, developer and property owner.
“They come asking for certain types of information. I try to connect them with the right folks, and then we just kind of wait and see,” he said.
The city also pursues development opportunities and pitches Whitewater as a location for them, he said.
Clapper said the city’s prospects are as good as they were earlier in the year, and two or three other leads have come up.
“The same players are there,” he said. “It’s just we haven’t been able to get to a point where we’ve got somebody putting (a) shovel in the ground or occupying a space.”
Clapper pointed to another news outlet’s recent coverage, which he said incorrectly implied Toppers Pizza could leave its headquarters and open a space that might interest a grocer.
The city manager emphasized he has no reason to think the pizza chain will do anything but stay where it is.
In the four years since Sentry closed, Clapper said, the city has been working to build and maintain relationships with potential grocers and wholesalers.
“It’s about finding the right fit,” he said.
The demographics in the city that has seen an expanding university aren’t the same as they were 60 or even 30 years ago when the city had several smaller grocery stores. But he said a new subdivision and opportunities for single-family home development should add to the city’s marketability.
The interest Clapper has seen other parties express in coming to or developing in Whitewater leaves him believing a grocery store will come to the city. But as the economic development staffing situation shows, sometimes there are bumps in the road.
“I’m optimistic that we’ll have a grocer, a grocery development in the near future,” he said. “I’m not going to put a date on it because things happen.”