Remembering BIG BEAR Stores

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Graceland Big Bear Go to the Wikipedia Article about Big Bear Back to Tallgeorge.com
More Columbus Big Bear Pictures Why did Big Bear go under?

Its January 24, 2004 and the flagship Big Bear at Graceland Shopping Center is being sold to the walls.

Who did in Big Bear? (back)

Big Bear was a longtime supermarket chain in Columbus, Ohio. In 1934 Wayne Brown opened the first modern supermarket in the nation on Lane Avenue across from St. John's Arena and called it "Big Bear". By the early 1980's Big Bear was bringing in a billion dollars a year in revenue and was sponsoring the scoreboard in Ohio State's football stadium. Brown was a builder, and he opened stores regularly throughout his career. Wayne Brown WAS Big Bear, it was his baby.

In 1989, a New York Investment Banker named Gary D. Hirsch took over Big Bear in a leveraged buyout. He borrowed an extravagant amount of money to buy the chain, paid himself an enormous bonus for doing so, and then slapped  the debt service onto the chain. This type of transaction was common in the 1980's, and as certainly as it enriched Hirsch, it also destroyed the company. Quite simply, because Big Bear had to make massive debt payments, it couldn't lower prices to compete when Meijer, and then later Wal-Mart, moved into the grocery business. It was all over by the end of 2003. While Giant Eagle and Kroger cherry-picked some of the better Columbus locations, most former stores locations remain unused or under-utilized. Hirsch split after things went south:


"When I left eight years ago, we had the best team in Columbus, and this guy from New York has absolutely decimated the company," said Michael J. Knilans, president and CEO of Big Bear Stores Co. from 1976 to 1989.

"This guy" is Gary D. Hirsch, chairman of Syracuse-based Penn Traffic Co., which bought Columbus-based Big Bear in 1989 in a hostile takeover.

Knilans and former Vice President of Operations Richard Vogel were interviewed May 13, the day Penn Traffic announced the sacking of folksy Big Bear President Stephen Breech, 141 other Big Bear employees in the company's Grandview offices and four other Penn Traffic division heads as part of a corporate restructuring.

 "He bought a jewel and proceeded to run it into the ground," said Knilans, an Upper Arlington resident who serves on two supermarket boards. "He has micro-managed a company that didn't need to be micro-managed. When I left we had $35 million in the bank. Now the company has $1 1/2 billion in debt."

 The problems at Big Bear, Knilans said, include declining sales and rising prices aimed at helping Penn Traffic pay its debt.

 Hirsch, he said, "did everything contrary to good business practice."

 Knilans' criticism of Penn Traffic and Hirsch were echoed by Richard Vogel, who was vice president of operations for Big Bear under Knilans.

 "The man who took over never understood the business or the market and proceeded to ruin the company," Vogel said of Hirsch. "An awful lot of good people are losing their jobs through no fault of their own. It upsets me to no end.".

 - Business First Magazine May 19, 1997


The Graceland Big Bear (back)

In August, 1960 Big Bear opened its "store of the future" in Graceland Shopping Center. On that day it was the largest supermarket in Ohio. It was renovated and served into the 1980's when it was replaced by a newer store just to the west. The site then sat empty while Graceland deteriorated around it. Finally, in 2004 Graceland reconstruction began. A brand new Office Max occupies this site today.

The famous Graceland Big Bear sign, night and day! I believe this sign was originally mounted on top of the 1960 Graceland store, and then moved to the front of Graceland on High Street at some later date, possibly in the late 1980's. When the sign finally came down in 2004, the Northland High School parents association took one side of the bear to use as a school mascot. The rest of the historic enamal sign was scrapped.

 

This is the "new Graceland Big Bear", a mammoth store that sold household goods on one side and groceries on the other. Nobody ever bought the household goods, because they were always dusty. If you look at the demographic that shopped there, it was all old people. People in their 80's don't need new spoons or throw rugs. After Big Bear went under, this store was converted into a Kroger. I had to learn a whole new store layout, and you still have to walk a tenth of a mile between the toothpaste and the doughnuts.

Inside the modern Graceland Big Bear. This was Big Bear store design at its peak. Big Bear had many long time employees - you actually saw adults manning the registers.


More Columbus Pics! Click To Enlarge (back)

100 Dillmont Drive (north of Crosswoods on Rt. 23 just North of I-270) Built in 1990. 1220 County Line Road (Westerville, north end of Alum Creek Reservoir) Built in 1995 1220 South James Road, Columbus. Built in the early 1980's.
1451 W. 5th Avenue, Grandview. Store on this site since the early 1950's. 1451 W. 5th Avenue, Grandview. Store on this site since the early 1950's. 1501 E. Dublin Granville Road, Dublin. Dates to the early 1970's.
1771 Hill Road North, Pickerington 1771 Hill Road North, Pickerington 1775 Kingsdale Center, Upper Arlington
199 Graceland Boulevard, North Clintonville near Worthington 199 Graceland Boulevard, North Clintonville near Worthington 199 Graceland Boulevard, North Clintonville near Worthington
199 Graceland Boulevard, Interior 199 Graceland Boulevard, Interior 199 Graceland Boulevard, Interior
199 Graceland Boulevard, Interior 199 Graceland Boulevard, Interior 199 Graceland Boulevard, Interior
2173 Stringtown Road 2173 Stringtown Road 2551 Schrock Road
2700 Bethel Road 280 E. Whittier Street, German Village 2801 North High Street, just north of OSU Campus
2865 West Broad Street (the Hilltop). This was one of Big Bear's newest stores when they went under. It was bought by an independent grocer and they kept all the signs and decorations. Go there and its like being back in Big Bear again! 2865 West Broad Street (the Hilltop) 3435 Sullivant Avenue, just west of the Hilltop.
3515 Cleveland Avenue, Northern Lights Shopping Center. This unique shopping center had a Big Bear and a Kroger in the same strip mall! 3670 W. Dublin Granville Road 3670 W. Dublin Granville Road
3680 East Broad Street 3680 East Broad Street 3700 Fishinger Blvd.
3811 South High Street 4280 Eastland Square Drive 4280 Eastland Square Drive
459 Agler Road 4632 East Main Street 4632 East Main Street
4780 West Broad Street (near New Rome) 5419 Roberts Road 5419 Roberts Road
660 Harrisburg Pike 6867 East Broad Street 777 Neil Avenue
889 Bethel Road 889 Bethel Road 920 North Hamilton Road
Dublin Center. Snazzy new store built just in time to celebrate the big bankruptcy! Who said capitalism uses resources wisely? Dublin Center Goodbye, Graceland Big Bear
Graceland Big Bear Graceland Big Bear Graceland Big Bear. There were no low prices! Those closeout contractors are all signs and no low prices! I saw blocks of cheese marked $8.99! It was a sad end!
Graceland Big Bear Graceland Big Bear Graceland Big Bear
Graceland Big Bear Graceland Big Bear Graceland Big Bear