A Central District staple is closing. What happens to the community it built?

Two weeks ago, the staff of the Central District’s Red Apple hung a banner above the store’s front doors that reads “STORE CLOSING.” It’s official: they’ll be closed by the end of the week.

Last November we wrote a story about this beloved grocery store and the community it’s built. Because to many who shop there, it’s much more than a place to buy food. That’s why documentary filmmaker Jill Freidberg, who’s part of that community, launched Shelf Life a project that collected the stories of Red Apple’s community amid a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. The Red Apple is a community center masquerading as a grocery store,” she said.  

Earlier this year, Vulcan Real Estate bought the land where Red Apple currently sits, and it plans to build a mixed-use project with 570 apartments.

And Michael Moss, the Red Apple’s store director, told us it’s not coming back. Instead, he said, the Red Apple in Beacon Hill will absorb this one and hire 90 percent of the closing store’s employees.

But Michael said Vulcan has given them every opportunity to get the space back.

“They’ve been amazing to us,” Michael said. “They’ve reached out to me to see if any of our employees would be willing to come back with whoever the tenant’s going to be. I thought that was pretty awesome.”

As for the possibility of re-opening the Red Apple after the new building’s done in a couple years, that isn’t in the cards, Michael said.

The current owner of the Red Apple stores is in his mid-sixties. In order to come back in the doors, it’s going to cost him a $10 million dollar debt that he…isn’t really willing to take on at this point in time in his life.”

Michael’s been working at the Central District store since the owner bought it 20 years ago. Back then, he said, the owner’s goal was to actually be a part of the community, and not just to take people’s money.

“He’s held true to his word for the last 20 years,” Michael said.

For two decades, the store’s hosted events like an annual backpack drive (this year’s gave backpacks to 600 kids), prime-rib community dinners, and Easter egg hunts. Since that closing sign went up a couple weeks ago, Michael said the community has reacted in a big way.

I can’t even count the number of people who’ve come in here with tears in their eyes,” he said. “We’ve seen kids be born, grow up, and have kids in the 20 years.”

One community that definitely felt the Red Apple love is local firefighters, who Michael says ate there every day and are throwing Red Apple employees a big barbecue at the end of the month to say thanks.

“They spend a lot of time here,” he said. “When the alarm goes off, they’re out the door [and we’re] like, ‘We’ll keep your stuff cold, don’t worry!’”

Michael said almost all the regular customers have friended him on Facebook, and they’ll keep in touch that way. Plus, he’ll be in the neighborhood leading men’s groups and trying to find a new place where they can run that big yearly backpack drive.

And while Michael will be working at a new company, he’s sending as many customers as he can to the Red Apple’s Beacon Hill store “where they can see a familiar face.”

“The majority of my employees will be up at that store,” he said. “So hopefully they’ll keep our little community together that way.”

As they leave the Central District behind, Michael’s hope for the Red Apple’s legacy is simple:

I hope we made an impact on people’s lives more than just taking the money through the register.. and helped them feel like they were part of something.”

Want to stop by before they close their doors for good?

Red Apple’s website says the last day is September 30, but Michael said the actual closing date depends on how much stock goes out the door. So if you’re looking to stop by one last time, do it by end of day tomorrow, Wednesday, Sept. 20.