ONTARIO – When Chris Blickfeldt and his wife Silver decided to buy Mallards Grocery
in north Ontario in April 2022 they carried high hopes.
“I really loved the idea of having a mom-and-pop store and being one with the community,” said Blickfeldt.
They were also warned by people that the store – at the edge of one of the poorest sections of Ontario – was at the bad end of town.
Yet they were undeterred and bought the store from Shannon Aguiar.
A year and a half later, they have a different perspective.
Blickfeldt said he will close Mallards Grocery, Saturday, Nov. 18.
The moment he twists the key in the door lock will mark the end a grocery legacy that began in 1930 and became something of a local landmark.
Originally knowns as Andersons, the store, at 797 N. Oregon Street, served as a convenience, sparing area residents a 20-minute walk to the nearest grocery.
Blickfeldt said he will close because of rising costs and because his parking lot has become a haven for people addicted to drugs, the homeless and drug dealers.
He blames Ballot Measure 110, which decriminalized personal possession of narcotics, as the cause for what has happened around his business.
“We’ve had to chase drug addicts and drug dealers out of the parking lot on a daily basis,” he said.
That hurts his business, he said.
“No one comes back because of the drug addicts and the homeless,” he said.
Blickfeldt said his business also struggled with getting supplies.
“I couldn’t get the larger distributors to even deal with me because I wasn’t spending $100,000 a year to buy product. I had to go to smaller distributors who charge more,” he said.
Blickfeldt said he hates to “be the guy closing the doors.”
“It is kind of the economics of corporate America we live in,” he said.
Mallards Grocery offered customers everything from hot food such as burritos, JoJo’s and fried potato wedges to cowboy hats and traditional corner market fare like beer and pop.
Blickfeldt said a “bunch of little things” contributed to his decision but by far the more severe problem affecting his business is the human fallout from Measure 110.
“I used to enjoy this place. But if it is not safe for you and your family to roll into my store you are not coming in. And there is no way to make it safe,” he said.
Blickfeldt said the Ontario Police Department promptly responds to his complaints about transients and those he feels are breaking the law.
“But they say all they can do is chase them off,” he said.
Blickfeldt said he and his wife moved to Ontario from Boise six years ago and bought a farm.
He also operates a food truck called Big Dog Burger Shack.
Mallards Grocery, he said, seemed like a perfect fit.
“We could buy the store and put the burger truck outside of it. I was looking for a permanent place to park it,” he said.
Security for the store and the truck, he said, quickly became a challenge. Eventually Blickfeldt said he deployed 27 surveillance cameras.
He said he would wake up in the morning, start making breakfast and take a look at his surveillance feeds.
“I’d notice a car parked with a lighter going on and off. They were smoking crack right next to my truck,” he said.
Blickfeldt said he also routinely found used needles around his store.
“I even have a metal container where you can drop the needles. But they’d still just drop them in the parking lot,” he said.
Then, he said, his wife was attacked inside the store in May when a man tried to strangle her.
“I had a zero-tolerance policy on my property for drugs. Even with that I was literally shoving drug addicts off my property,” he said.
Ontario Police Chief Mike Iwai said he’s not surprised Mallards Grocery faced problems with illegal narcotics.
“You’ve taken a lot of cases of criminal activity, and (under Measure 110) made them violations. Like responding to less than a seatbelt violation. So, there isn’t a lot of accountability. We also don’t have the services or enough law enforcement officers as it is. Measure 110 exponentially increased our inability to proactively patrol,” he said.
Iwai said as chief he needs “some better laws to work with so we can hold people accountable.”
He said he was sorry to hear the Ontario store was to close.
“It doesn’t sit well with me,” he said.
The Ontario City Council did approve hiring another police officer and Iwai said he is preparing to fill the spot.
“I have several officers in recruit status and we are trying to get them trained. So, it is important for the public to know that I don’t have a full staff,” he said.
Now, Iwai said, his department includes 25 officers, including him.
For Blickfeldt, the prospect of closing is depressing.
“I thought mom-and-pop stores were all going by the wayside. I thought it would be nice to own one to keep the small-town community thing going. So, it is sad. But it is what it is,” he said.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
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