Otto’s For Sale: The End Of A Chapter In Germantown
By Jamie Larson
In just seven years, Otto’s Market and its genial owner Otto Leuschel have become an institution on Main Street in the small hamlet of Germantown, New York. In 2012, Leuschel also opened Germantown Variety across the street, an updated five and dime as meticulously curated and quality driven as the market. The stores have cemented the former Whole Foods Market VP’s local legacy as a community-oriented master businessman. In many ways, Leuschel has been directly responsible for revitalizing the town and creating a sustainable little business. In fact, the owners of the well-received new restaurant Gaskins credit the stores specifically as one of the reasons they chose to open in the town.
So it came as a shock to many when Leuschel recently put both Otto’s and Germantown Variety up for sale so he can move back home to Washington State to help support his now 87-year-old parents.
“It was a very difficult decision because I’m proud of what I’ve built, but at the end of the day it’s a business,” Leuschel says. “I’ve been on the move my whole life and never stayed in one place too long. I see my life as chapters and this was by far the greatest chapter.”
Otto’s Market was originally built as a grocery store in 1927, and when Leuschel purchased the building he did a total renovation of the space to recreate an all-American early-20th century vibe. The atmosphere, and the market’s mix of everyday groceries with specialty and local foods, managed to do what was once thought impossible in Columbia County: bring the longtime locals and metro-transplants together.
Leuschel says he spends time considering every single thing he stocks, and that by selling high-quality (rather than “gourmet”) products, he tries to give the community the feeling that they are never excluded or priced out.
He says the only difference between the two types of clientele is that locals come in when they’re looking for something specific or to get coffee and a sandwich from the back deli, whereas weekenders will often do their whole shop.
Across the street, Germantown Variety essentially became the hardware and home goods extension of Otto’s, selling everything from nails and screws to beauty supplies and children’s toys. The store proved Otto’s wasn’t just a lucky fluke but that, if well run, new businesses could thrive in the out-of-the-way little town. It’s a lesson to be heeded not just by Germantown but smaller municipalities across the region.
From a real estate perspective, Germantown Variety may be an even more interesting property because along with the store, the beautiful 1930s structure also has two renovated loft apartments and an office suite.
“It’s time for me to sell — but I’m also selling something really cool,” says Leuschel, who never thought he would be going back to Whole Foods to run a store in Washington. “For a lot of people these are more than just stores. I’m so happy I was able to be a part of the community. Saying goodbye to the kids I’ve watched grow up is the hardest part.”
Leuschel’s goal is to find buyers interested in continuing and growing the businesses because they have become integral to the community. But more than that, he has created two stores that could be used as a masters study in business management. During his 17 years at Whole Foods, Leuschel opened and/or ran stores that played a part in the company becoming the giant it is today. He was responsible for opening the first Whole Foods stores in New York City, San Francisco and London, among many others. He says Otto’s and Germantown Variety are run just like a Whole Foods and any buyer could inherit all the successful and proven structures and efficiencies he’s built into the operations. He hopes that also means they would keep on the much-loved and well-trained local staff.
The apartment above Germantown Variety.
“I hope to sell it to someone who can carry it on and take it further. I’ve given it all I’ve got, all my tools,” he says, adding that he’s not just selling the businesses and the buildings but the chance to live the amazing lifestyle Germantown has afforded him.
“People get me and accept me and like me and celebrate me. I have to go because my head is going to get too big! I’m cognizant of what I’m giving up. It’s great to be me here and if you want my life, it’s for sale.”