Usually, on Saturdays, Emigration Market bustles with activity. Customers overflow the café, bouncing in and out with energetic activity. Customers chat in lines for deli sliced pancetta and coffee. On Saturday afternoons, savvy consumers inspect oregano for brown leaves, squeeze pears and pick through cloves of garlic. An empty bread rack indicates a busy morning, reminding customers to come earlier next time. A group of trendy twenty-somethings browse frozen vegetarian pizza. Down the aisle, a sun kissed mom debates between Irish cheddar and smoked provolone. On Saturday, though each register has an attendant, lines form. The energy is positive and cheerful.

Today was not a usual Saturday. The air was solemn, like attending the funeral of a close friend’s close friend. Waning shelves were anemic proxies of their former selves. Lights were out at the meat counter, the deli, and the café. A few customers revisited the aisles, somberly; picking through Emigration’s remaining stock while silently paying final respects. Untended wilting greens and fruit skins haunted the produce section beside browning herbs. A gardener collected the remains, “For compost.” A salt and pepper haired stout woman, a regular customer, hugged a teary eyed good-bye with a longtime employee.  There were warning signs, of course, but we failed to recognize them. Last December, Salt Lake Tribune announced that, “Slow sales may shut down Emigration Market.” ABC, Ralph Becker and owner J.T. Martin pleaded with consumers not to forget small local businesses during the holiday bustle. A number of factors contributed, but especially the combination of politics, high operational costs and the economy. Most customers don’t realize high credit card use can accrue high costs for businesses, or that one slow holiday season can break a small business. Even as Emigration breathes its last, I wonder if my hands are completely clean. “If I’d only known,” I lamented, while swiping my visa at the register for the last time. The store officially closes the casket April 3, but is operating on a skeleton crew until next week. Emigration opened more than 50 years ago in 1942 on 17th East and 13th South in Sugarhouse, changing hands a couple of times.  Many of the store’s shelves housed offerings from other local businesses such as Winder Farms, Nutty Guys and Creminelli Fine Meats, who will now find space elsewhere. It is survived by around 15-20 employees exploring future employment options. Though national unemployment officially stopped bleeding out a few months ago, according to reports, job hunting in this economy is no cake walk. A small group tossed options around, and seemed hopeful. A few specialty retailers may open new stores in the upcoming months, and offering new opportunities to the Salt Lake foodies. Until next Saturday, the public can pay respects, say good-byes and hunt down bargains. After that, Salt Lake will need to grieve and learn to move on, shopping locally with other retailers.