One of Alexandria's longest operating family grocery stores will fade into history at the end of August. After 32 years "Cash Grocer Natural Foods," 1315 King St., is closing its doors.
"I can no longer compete with the large chain stores. They get much better deals from the manufacturers than small store like mine," said Peggy Kleysteuber, founder and owner of the Cash Grocer since it first opened on N. Pitt Street in 1975.
"It's the same thing that's happening to all small businesses. And, it will continue to happen unless the city is willing to provide some form of protection to small businesses," she said.
In the case of Cash Grocer it is not only the business that will be changing but the entire building. Kleysteuber, who also owned the building, has sold it. "I don't know what the new owners plan to do with it. They haven't told me. It was a very quick deal and I can't reveal the buyers until the entire deal is absolutely sealed," she said.
The last day for customers was Saturday, Aug. 18. But Kleysteuber said, "I will still be around for a couple of weeks cleaning things up and getting rid of inventory. Most of the products that are left will probably go to a lady that has decided to open a similar type store in Temple Hills, Md.," she said.
"I also plan to help her get started."
A life-long resident of Alexandria, Kleysteuber lives in Del Ray with her 22-year-old daughter, Margaret Rose. Her grandfather was mayor of the town of Potomac, before it became the Del Ray section of Alexandria.
In fact, the name for the store "Cash Grocer" came from an artifact Kleysteuber found in her grandfather's basement. It was a small leaded glass sign that read Cash Grocer. "I don't know where it came from, but I liked it, so that's how I named the store," she said. She then had a large stained glass window made to resemble the small sign and installed it as part of the store's front window.
CASH GROCER has specialized in organic and health foods with an emphasis on bulk food, herbs, macrobiotic supplies and organic produce. "Most of the things we carry are just not sold in the large chain stores," she said.
"My customers are very disappointed. Some have even gotten mad at me saying ‘I just thought you would always be there.’ I tell them what — did you think I'd never die," Kleysteuber said with a sly smile.
One of her longest customers and good friend is Jackie Spegai. "The Cash Grocer is a part of Alexandria history. I'm very sad it's closing," she said.
"We moved here from the Bronx in 1972. When Peggy opened I popped in just out of curiosity. I walked in and I walked out. Then I walked back in. I didn't understand all that stuff she was selling," Spegai said.
"I didn't know anything about the various foods so I asked if she had distilled water. She asked me why I wanted distilled water. I said isn't that supposed to be good for you? Her answer was, "No — its dead water," Spegai recalled.
"That started our friendship and my knowledge of macrobiotics. There are just so many people from all walks of life throughout the entire area that shop in that store. Peggy truly embraced the natural food way of life," she said.
"Peggy is and has been unique. I'm a different person because of the Cash Grocer and Peggy," Spegai exclaimed.
Another disappointed long-time customer is Jean Lindsey, herself a member of a long established Alexandria family that has operated businesses in the city for many years. "I've been a Cash Grocer customer since Peggy started," she said.
"I used to help her at the store when I could. I don't know where we'll get what she sells when she's gone. It's just too bad she has to go out of business because of the big stores," Lindsey said.
"I think this city should do more to help people like Peggy instead of concentrating all their efforts on trying to bring in big stores that put people like her out of business. She has worked so hard on this business," she said.
"I hope she remains available with advice on macrobiotics and other health food things. She is so knowledgeable and she has not only been a good store keeper but she is also a good person," Lindsey said.
Whether she remains available for any length of time is highly speculative, according to Kleysteuber. "I bought a large house in Elkins, WVa., and I'm thinking about turning it into a bed and breakfast," she said.
"There's a lot going on over there. Elkins is home to the Augusta Heritage Festival. But, I really don't know what I'm going to do in the long run," Kleysteuber admitted. "Right now I have my hands full in closing this store and dealing with the left over inventory."