The Lake Oswego institution will return in smaller form in new development

by: VERN UYETAKE - A big chapter of Lake Oswegos history will end when Wizer's Oswego Market closes its doors in about three weeks. But owner Gene Wizer is already looking toward the future.When Wizer’s Oswego Market closes its doors it will also close an era in Lake Oswego history.

The supermarket that has been as closely associated with this city as any business is finally shutting down after 65 years, and it won’t be the same in Lake Oswego. Owner Gene Wizer said the market on First Street and A Avenue is starting a liquidation sale today and will close in three weeks.

Customers have been going there for generations, and many kids had their first jobs at Wizer’s. Founder Jim Wizer and later his son Gene were stalwarts of the community, the type of people who have made Lake Oswego a good place to live. Closing the store was not an easy decision for Gene Wizer.

“Ever since the city announced the redevelopment that is supposed to happen our sales have decreased,” he said. “Now seemed the best time to close rather than later.”

Twice before developers were on the verge of buying Wizer’s property and starting a new project, but the deals ultimately fell through. Wizer said he would have still kept his store going if the city had not announced its redevelopment plan for the area.

In May developers and city staffers presented a redevelopment plan for Lake Oswego’s Block 137, owned by Wizer, calling for building 242 upper-end apartments, retail spaces on the street level and underground parking, plus a courtyard and public VERN UYETAKE - The Wizer block could soon transform into a mixed-used development containing some smaller retail spaces for independent businesses and high-end apartments between First and Second streets, Evergreen Road and A Avenue.

Wizer will continue to have a strong presence on First Street and A Avenue. The store will continue to sell wine and liquor until the building is torn down in July 2014, and there will be a Wizer’s specialty food and wine store when the new retail section is built, hopefully by 2016. But the change is still momentous, and longtime Wizer’s customers are taking the news hard.

“Some were in tears. Some were upset,” Wizer said. “They like our selection.”

The general reaction has been disbelief.

“It’s hard to imagine downtown Lake Oswego without the Wizer’s store,” said Chuck O’Leary, chief executive officer of the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce. “The Wizer family has been a cherished and integral part of our community, and their generosity in supporting virtually every local organization and event through these many years will not be forgotten.”

Wizer seems ready for the future, but the past has so many memories. He started working in the store at 7 years of age at the salary of 50 cents a day. His dad, Jim, was the son of Lebanese immigrants and a former worker in the mines of Montana. According to the stories about Jim Wizer over the years in the Lake Oswego Review, a doctor advised him to not work so hard. Instead, he opened a grocery store in Portland in 1929.

The Wizers came to Lake Oswego in the boom year of 1948, opening the city’s first supermarket. The grocery prices of that time make one wax nostalgically for the good old days: 89 cents for a 10-pound bag of sugar, 59 cents for a pound of sliced bacon, 24 cans of beer for $2.99, 45 cents a pound for a shoulder roast. It was happy days for shoppers. Wizers later added a Lake Grove store, which closed in 2010. It was located at the site of what is now Zupan’s.

Meanwhile, Jim Wizer was the best possible walking advertisement for Lake Oswego, and he passed on his spirit of community commitment to his son.

Today, Gene Wizer promises, “We’ll be back.”

But the big store that helped so much to make Lake Oswego what it is today will be gone.

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