What started as a hot topic of conversation around town about the conversion of the Jay C Store into a Ruler Foods Store has turned into a "Save the Madison Indiana Jay C Store" cause with a page on Facebook with more than 600 members.

The new Ruler Foods Store in Madison will not have a deli or fried chicken, and customers will bag their own groceries and not have carry-out service. There will be a meat counter and a meat cutter and the store will be stocked with discounted products.

The Facebook page members are organizing a picket in front of the store on Saturday. They have come up with preliminary slogans such as "No deli? No deal!" and "Why did Jay C chicken cross the road? For Kroger corporate profits!"

Mark Combs, director of marketing for Jay C Stores, said the decision has been made to make the change to Ruler Foods and nothing will change or dissuade the corporate management.

The Jay C will close Jan. 29 and reopen a few weeks later as Ruler. Jay C Store President Paul Bowen announced the change in name and format at the end of December.

Ruler Foods, like Jay C Food Stores, is owned by the Kroger Co. Ruler Foods is what the company calls the discount and value chain of food stores in the corporation. The Ruler chain has stores in Salem and Mitchell.

Not having a deli or fried chicken, and the changes to customer bagging and carry-out upset some customers.

"There are a lot of unknowns (with Ruler Foods)," said Jan Vetrhus, one of the Facebook group organizers. "I don't know they've (corporate officials) ever eaten the fried chicken at Jay C. Kroger's fried chicken is not even close. Jay C has the best fried chicken in all the area. ... This (changeover) is strictly for bottom-line profits. They have no clue what their customers want.

"We want to show them we are worth it," Vetrhus said. "We are really annoyed by a corporate decision. Many of us live downtown. We have tried calling corporate and they've brushed us off."

Combs said he has received two calls since the decision was made - one from The Madison Courier and the other from Madison Mayor Tim Armstrong.

"We have been reading the comments on Facebook and Old Madison," Combs said. "We have received a few letters. Honestly, if we sold as much fried chicken as people say they buy, then we would not be having this conversation."

Armstrong said in a press release that he has talked to the corporate management, asking that the Ruler Store have the deli and fried chicken.

"Losing the convenient access to deli and fried chicken is a concern to area residents," Armstrong said in a press release. "The city of Madison appreciates the company's long-standing investments in our community through employment and grocery offerings."

Combs said the decision to change the store from Jay C to Ruler Foods Store was based on several factors, including gross profit. Gross profit is calculated by subtracting the revenue generated from sales from the cost of producing the product sold. This is the amount before taxes, overhead, payroll and interest payments are paid.

"At that store, we were not doing well in gross profit for some time," Combs said. "The store fits the Ruler format. We are deeply involved and committed to that format. The Ruler format works better with our smaller stores."

The Madison Jay C Store has about 10,000 square feet, while Jay C Stores in Charlestown, Salem and Floyds Knobs are much larger. The Salem store has six times as much retail space as Madison.

The protesters, who will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at Jay C and will later go to Kroger, said they want their needs and displeasure to be known to the corporation.

 "It's a Jay C decision, not a Kroger corporate decision," Combs said. "The Louisville division (of Kroger) has nothing to do with the decision."

Thursday, Jay C Store corporate management placed a security guard at the store entrance. Combs said the security guard was not added because of any threats received or posted online, but was placed to help customers in and out of the store.

"We have guards in a majority of our stores," Combs said. "The guard is unarmed and has no weapons. The guard is more like a greeter, for lack of a better word, and will not be able to stop anything from happening. The guard is just an extra set of eyes at the store."

Protesters are gearing up for Saturday.

"We are going to make a video of it and put it on YouTube and send it to TV stations," Vetrhus said. "Cincinnati is where Kroger corporate is located. We are located in an area where Cincinnati covers some of our news on TV. The idea is to show the folks we support our local employees and store. We'll have to make choices and recruit competition. We will have to boycott the (Ruler Foods) store by not shopping there. It's very frustrating because (Jay C is) a good grocery store. We want to make sure the services are provided downtown."

Combs said that before the closing, "We will completely clean out the Jay C Store. We have not been adding inventory to the store. We have been monitoring the store the last three weeks. We will only use new materials and food products in the Ruler Foods. If we are product-heavy, we will have a three-day sale to move inventory out."

The Ruler Foods format

The company describes Ruler Foods Stores as providing "extreme value" and products that are the Kroger and Jay C brands.

In Salem, the Ruler Foods Store is less than one mile from the largest Jay C Store in southern Indiana and in the same shopping plaza as a Dollar General Store, which also offers discount grocery products. Ruler customers walk into a smaller store, where they have to rent carts. They insert a quarter to use a cart and if they return the cart, they receive their quarter back.

Some of the Ruler customers leave their cart in the parking lot and others return it to the store to retrieve the quarter, Combs said.

The shelves are made of stacks of open cardboard boxes. The opening allows the products to be displayed. On some of the metal shelving that is used sparingly throughout the store, a few national brands are displayed, but most of the products are the store brand.

The Salem store has some fresh produce but does not have specialty items. A refrigerated meat case contains ground hamburger and some cuts of beef, which looks similar to what Kroger or Jay C carry.

"The Madison Ruler Store will be different than the Salem store," Combs said. "The Madison store will have a meat cutter to cut beef, pork and to do some grinds. It will have a larger produce section."

Combs said the meat and produce sections will be larger in Madison because the store has the equipment and space for them. There also is a meat cutter on staff at the Madison store.

"No one is being terminated," Combs said. "We found a large number of people (employees) live outside of Madison and the Scottsburg and Versailles Jay C Stores will be closer for some of our employees."

The Salem Ruler store has prepackaged deli meats that cost less than a dollar, a freezer section with pizzas and other quick-meal items, a dairy section with milk and butter among other items, and orange juice.

The Salem store accepts cash, credit cards, checks and government assistance programs such as food stamps and WIC. The store is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Where have the grocers gone?

The first Jay C Store in Madison opened in the 1940s, and the store had a downtown location on south Jefferson Street during Madison's Sesquicentennial in 1959. The store was also located on the hilltop when the hilltop had a commercial boom in the 1960s. In 1974, the Jay C Store gave up its hilltop location to Kroger. Kroger gave up its downtown location on Second Street and the Jay C Store moved into it. Today, Fred Koehler owns the property, according to county property records. Koehler could not be reached for comment.

During the time when Jay C Store first opened, Madison had a rich history of grocery stores downtown.

In 1859, a business directory of Madison listed about 50 grocers. By 1860, the list of grocers and those who sold dry goods grew, with several stores on Main, Second and Walnut streets.

A hundred years later, the number of stores in Madison had significantly dwindled by 1959, but there still were many local family-owned stores such as Wehner's Food, Pearson's Food Mart, Kasper's, Schnabel's Meat Market, Vincent's Grocery and Pearl Packing Co. Inc. During the 1970s and 1980s, Madison had grocery stores on the hilltop, but not near the number of stores it had when Madison was in its first 100 years of existence.

While Ruler is more comparable to ALDI or Save-A-Lot than it is to discount stores like Dollar General, Combs said, the Jay C Store and Kroger Corp. want to increase their presence in this market.

"A lot of towns in southern Indiana with populations of 3,000 and under have not been marketed," Combs said

These are the areas that the discount and value chain retailers are hoping to target and establish themselves in before their competition beats them to the punch.

In addition to the Madison store changing, Jay C Store corporate management has announced that Jay C stores in Princeton and in eastern Bedford also will close Jan. 29 and reopen as Ruler Foods. Combs said the corporation also has plans to create new locations from the "ground up" this year.

Jay C Stores has 30 stores in 26 cities and towns in southern Indiana. The first Jay C Store opened in 1863 in Rockford. After a fire destroyed the first store, the Jay C Store opened in Seymour on Chestnut Street. Today, Jay C's corporate offices and retail warehouse are in Seymour.