Musser's Columbia

This is Musser's Market in Columbia Plaza at 960 Lancaster Ave, Columbia, will close Feb. 15.

Citing changing customer buying habits and rising grocery competition in Lancaster County, Musser’s Markets will close its location in Columbia and look to open a discount grocery store at the spot.

It’s the latest development in an ongoing shakeup of the county’s $4.1 billion grocery industry.

After the store’s last day Feb. 15, its inventory will be transferred to the Musser’s Market two miles east along Route 462 as plans are considered for revamping what is now a full-service grocery store.

“That area would definitely do well with a discount grocer,” said Greg Musser, one of six owners of the four-store grocery chain. “A mini Wegmans is not going to work in the town of Columbia.”

Musser said all of the roughly 45 full- or part-time employees at the Columbia grocery store are being offered jobs at other stores, with most transferring to the store near Mountville.

Opened in 1983

First opened in 1983, the 17,500-square-foot store at 960 Lancaster Ave., Columbia, is the smallest of the four Musser’s Markets, which includes a 44,000-square-foot store west of Mountville. Musser’s also has a store in Lebanon and one at the Buck in southern Lancaster County, where it has its headquarters.

Musser’s owns the Columbia Plaza shopping center where the Columbia store is located, and Musser said the first option for the space there would be for the family to open a discount store of its own. But he said the family would also entertain offers from other discount stores to lease space.

Musser said he could not offer a timeline for when a discount store might open. But he noted that if the Musser family opened its own discount store, it would be under a different name to avoid creating confusion with the existing, full-service Musser’s Markets.

Evolving grocery industry

With younger customers going out to eat more often, getting grab-and-go meals or buying meal kits, there’s less demand for grocery stores, Musser said — especially small ones.

And while heavyweight newcomers Wegmans and Whole Foods have changed the grocery store landscape by opening Lancaster County stores in 2018, the Columbia Musser’s has suffered more because many kinds of stores now stock groceries, Musser said. They include Dollar General, which has a Columbia location next to Musser’s.

Plus, small stores stock nearly all of their shelves with core grocery staples, not the ancillary items that often carry a higher profit margin, Musser said.

“We’ve been looking at a format change because we know that with a grocery store at 20,000 square feet, it’s just tough to survive,” he said.

Mayor’s reaction

When Columbia Mayor Leo Lutz heard Musser’s was closing, he commented that it would be “rough” on Columbia residents, especially those who walk to the store.

But Lutz changed his tune when told Musser’s wants to open a discount store at the spot.

“If it was a discount store, it would probably benefit some of our older citizens and the ones that count their pennies,” Lutz said. “And still it would be available for those who walk. That’s great.”