Van Til's in Hammond to remain independent store

Ron Mize, left, buys groceries in February 2011 at the Strack & Van Til grocery store in Lowell. The Van Til Mega Mart in Hammond remains independent from but affiliated with the Strack & Van Til chain, which is expected to return to local control next month.

The Strack and Van Til families joined together to form Indiana Grocery Group and buy 20 Strack & Van Til stores.

But that doesn't mean the lone Van Til's Mega Mart at 2635 169th St. in Hammond's Hessville neighborhood will be enveloped into the Strack & Van Til fold.

"That will remain as an independent affiliated store," Chief Executive Officer Jeff Strack said. "The Van Til family still owns and operates that location."

Some might confuse the Van Til store for a Strack & Van Til since it has similar signage and stocks Strack & Van Til items. The large supermarket, which employs more than 100 workers, has some distinct differences, such as that it does not carry beer or wine, and is not open on Sunday because of the family's religious beliefs.

After Strack & Van Til parent company Central Grocers filed for bankruptcy in May and started closing stores, the Van Til's Mega Mart near the Purdue University Northwest campus started lining 169th Street with signs saying that it wasn't closing and would remain open.

After the Strack and Van Til families teamed up to put in a bid valued at at least $91.3 million to maintain local control of their stores, the Van Til Mega Mart was listed as a location on the Strack & Van Til website. It will remain separate from the grocery chain, but benefit from business arrangements like shared marketing.

"They will be taking advantage of the same things that will be happening in the Strack & Van Tils," Strack said.

Strack & Van Til is switching to the new wholesaler Associated Wholesale Grocers, which is five times as large as Central Grocers and has more leverage to negotiate lower prices from food producers and manufacturers. Strack said Strack & Van Til will be able to carry far more generic product lines, including more low-cost and organic options to make it more competitive.

The Highland-based supermarket chain also expects to have more flexibility in sourcing meat, produce and other items from local suppliers after it closes on the sale on Aug. 2. 

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Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.