Probably every midwestern city has, or had, a local grocer. Though Muncie was home to lots of one-offs along with the Richmond-based interloper Eavey’s, for most of the last century the city had three major players: Marsh, Ross, and Wise. I love a good supermarket history, and I was reminded of one a couple of weeks ago when I went to Central Indiana Orthopedics to get my shoulder checked out. Yep- I jacked up a body part. I’m getting old!
I tore my labrum attempting to move a 240-pound fish tank up the stairs to my apartment by myself. It’s a long story, but I went to Central Indiana Orthopedics to get it checked out. Though someone my age or new to Muncie would never guess it today, this city’s branch of Central Indiana Orthopedics was once a Wise Supermarket.
Wise Food Markets was founded in Muncie in 1937, when O.G. Wise opened a frozen food locker and cannery at 1700 N. Walnut Street. A decade later, Wise converted the cannery into a grocery store, and a second Wise market on East Memorial Drive followed in 1955.
Duane Wise eventually succeeded his father as president of the company, and 1977 saw a modern, 24,000-square foot supermarket added to the north of the original structure on Walnut Street. That location was the first supermarket to install barcode scanners in Muncie, according to the January 27, 1979 edition of The Muncie Star, despite Marsh’s triumph as the first retailer in the country to ever scan a UPC at their branch in Troy, Ohio five years earlier.
In 1985, Wise reconfigured the company’s Walnut Street site into what was known as the Wise Mini Mall. In addition to the new grocery store, the complex became home to a Pier 1 Imports store upstairs and surrounding the new supermarket, the “supermarket of crafts” Wise Crafters in the old grocery store, and the “A Cut Above” beauty salon, which was also situated above the supermarket. The Wise Country Market, a seasonal produce stand, stood at the southwest corner of the complex. In 1988, the Memorial Drive store was enlarged as well.
Marsh got an early foothold on the northwest side of Muncie in 1980 when it built a 32,000 square foot superstore adjacent to Ayr-Way. By the early 1990s, Wise was ready to expand again, and work began in earnest on a new Wise Food Market at 3600 West Bethel Avenue during the fall of 1991.
At 42,000 square feet (much larger than either of the company’s existing groceries), the $4 million Wise supermarket was designed to be a cutting-edge shopping experience, with a 24-foot wide automatic revolving door manufactured by a company from the Netherlands and said to be the largest in the world, a drive-up window, a bakery, and a deli and dining area. The supermarket opened in 1992.
Unfortunately, more competitors came into play on Muncie’s northwest side once the store was built than there had been when it was first planned: the arrival of Meijer further west had an enormous impact on Wise’s new operation, as did the opening of a new Marsh at McWheel Plaza at the corner of McGalliard and Wheeling further east.
Traffic patterns struck another blow: though clearly visible from McGalliard Road, The Wise family was unable to win a curb-cut to provide direct access to the supermarket from the highway, which had been designated as Indiana State Road 332 several years earlier. That forced the store to rely on access from Bethel Avenue and Community Drive, which made getting to the store difficult since a four-way stop at Clara and Timber lanes frequently caused lengthy traffic jams and backups.
Due to the myriad issues, the northwest Wise supermarket closed early in 1996 after just over three years in business. The building was sold to East Central Indiana Orthopedics, which opened at the site during in April of 1997.
Wise Food Markets remained in business until later that year, when locally-owned Ross Supermarkets purchased the company for just under $2 million. Ross operated both remaining Wise stores through 2000, when Marsh bought the combined organization. That year, Marsh converted the old Wise supermarket on East Memorial Drive into its second Savin*$ store, a low-frills brand similar to Aldi that featured another location in Frankfort. Five other Ross Supermarkets -including the former Wise on North Walnut- were converted to Marsh’s LoBill Foods brand.
Marsh closed the Savin*$ grocery in 2006 amidst a corporate restructuring program. In 2017, Wise’s Walnut Street supermarket closed when Marsh declared bankruptcy.
Sadly, Duane Wise passed away in May at the age of 97. Today, the family still owns the Walnut Street property and continues to operate the Wise Country Market garden store on the site.