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Employee Michele Meginley, center, checks out Kim and Jim Barker of New Providence, after they shopped for groceries at Musser's Market on Monday, August 19, 2019.

THE ISSUE

Musser’s Market, which has a history in Lancaster County dating to 1925, is divesting its three remaining stores — in Buck in East Drumore Township, in West Hempfield Township (near Mountville) and in Lebanon — to Giant Food Stores for an undisclosed price, LNP’s Tim Mekeel reported in Tuesday’s edition. “Musser’s is the third family-owned, small, independent supermarket company based here to sell to Giant in the past year, joining Darrenkamp’s and Ferguson & Hassler. The transactions continue a seismic shift in grocery shopping here toward regional and national chain stores,” Mekeel noted.

The accelerating loss of our smaller, family-owned grocery stores in Lancaster County is lamentable.

They have been part of our region’s unique character. Part of the fabric of our communities and daily lives. Generations of teenagers got their first jobs there; numerous adults spend their careers working at these supermarkets.

Musser’s has been around since the Coolidge administration. That’s a lot of families who have been provided for over the decades — and a lot of memories.

“We cannot show enough appreciation to the loyal customers that we have had since 1925,” Musser’s stated on Facebook.

And yet the economics no longer make sense, the Musser family added in its online statement.

This is a cycle that we are, regrettably, seeing too often in recent months.

First Darrenkamp’s.

Then Ferguson & Hassler.

And now Musser’s. Its three stores will close Oct. 17. They will be dark for about a week for remodeling, Mekeel reported, and then will reopen as Giant supermarkets. Giant, which first arrived in Lancaster during the Carter administration, will have 12 locations in the county when Musser’s stores in East Drumore and West Hempfield are converted.

Some of the 350 Musser’s employees might keep their jobs and work for the new Giant stores, Mekeel reported, but there are no guarantees. We hope for the best outcome for them.

For consumers, meanwhile, some of the unique offerings of the Musser’s bakery and meats departments are sure to go by the wayside.

We are not alone in lamenting the Musser’s news. Here’s a tiny sampling of the 1,500-plus comments that have been posted on the Musser’s Market Facebook page since Sunday evening:

— “So very sad to hear this. For those of us who grew up in the southern end, it’s a sad reminder of how much things have changed. It’s also a testament to how valued and appreciated places like that are to so many of us. End of an era I suppose.”

— “Thank you for being an important staple in our community. Thank you for all of the support and donations that you have made to countless organizations over the last 90+ years!”

— “I understand, but I’m really going to miss your store — the hush puppies, especially the fried chicken, and your fresh lunch meats, and your wonderful baked goods. Thanks for being here so long!”

— “I’m so upset about this! Prayers for all the employees who have become friends!”

And this, which we found especially touching:

— “When my husband passed away in 2010, Mr. Musser personally delivered a large deli tray without us ordering it. It was so generous and thoughtful. Such a nice family. We will miss you!”

Friends. Family. These comments describe the personal touches the stores’ customers will miss. It’s hard for corporate grocery chains — even as they engage in philanthropy and help communities — to make the same kind of impact and impression as a local family-owned business. Or to have the same tangible connection to our shared past.

Recall a letter we published earlier this summer, in the wake of the Ferguson & Hassler sale. Ammon King wrote: “A personal thank you to the managers at Fergie’s Supermarket — Jim, Tim and Chip. You did a great job of making Ferguson & Hassler’s feel like home. ... Will the new managers still host the Quarryville Fire Company’s chicken barbecue in the parking lot? Will Brian still be pushing shopping carts in all kinds of weather? You would see him wearing the biggest smile. Just to name a few things that made your store special.”

Indeed, these family stores became part of our families.

But times change.

As Mekeel explains, the owners of our vanishing family stores “cited a similar litany of reasons, including growing competition, especially from chains, as well as increasing expectations from shoppers and changing shopping habits.”

Industry analyst Jeff Metzger told Mekeel that “there’s a huge advantage when you have size and scale, and you don’t have to worry about capital needs as much as smaller retailers do.”

We get it.

Remember, though, that the Lancaster County butchers and farmers who have long provided food for our family-owned supermarkets are still part of our community. Many sell directly to the public, so you can seek them out and help to ensure they continue to prosper.

Change may be inevitable. It helps if we remember that the character of our community does not lie in bricks and mortar, but in its people.