LIMA — The Pony Keg owner Wayne Symonds had no idea his Facebook post announcing the store’s liquidation sale would have such an impact.
The convenience mart is set to close between Christmas and New Year’s. The store will not be able to close its doors until the current inventory is gone or the business has been bought out.
“The store has been for sale on the market for about two years now, but I don’t think it was really public knowledge,” he said. “I think that post online and signs out front made people finally aware.”
Though it may not be a particularly cheerful time to close a community staple, from a business standpoint, Symonds said it makes the most sense. Sales are usually up at this time of year, and he can end the year and finally return to his retirement in Florida.
Shortly after listing the business in January 2017, the local Meijer approached Symonds to buy their agency with the state for high-proof alcohol. Symonds agreed, hoping that would lower the price of The Pony Keg and make it sell quicker. The building still holds its liquor license and it will transfer to the new owners if sold.
“I don’t think new ownership is too far around the corner,” he said. “I’m hoping someone buys it and it stays The Pony Keg or goes to someone in a similar business.”
Steve Sauer opened The Pony Keg in the mid-1970s with the help of his father, Robert. The two owned and operated the store with the help of Dirk Sauer for about 15 years until a job took Steve out of the area. The original plan was to specialize in smoked meats, wines and cheeses. When the store switched over to a convenience mart, it became a hit.
“I’m surprised to hear it could close,” Sauer said. “We always did good business there. It was handy for a lot of people.”
Both Symonds and Sauer attributed much of the success of the store to its prime location on the corner of Spencerville Road and Shawnee Road.
“Our family knew people from all over Lima, and people came out of their way to come to the store,” Sauer said. “But, I think a lot of it had to do with the name itself – it was an attractive name and people liked that.”
Sauer picked up the term ‘pony keg’ from his time in Cincinnati where they carried physical small kegs of beer. Along with bringing a new term to the area, Sauer also introduced it to a wide variety of imported beers he experienced in his original travels looking for smoked meats to buy from the Amish.
Symonds, who has almost always owned small businesses on the side, said The Pony Keg was one of his personal favorites and the easiest that he’s owned. When he originally became interested 15 years ago, the store was not for sale, but he was able to strike a deal with the then owner. He since added the drive-thru window for even more access and convenience.
“I’m going to miss the costumers, for sure. They’re the heart of the business,” he said. “When I originally bought the place, I thought it would be mostly random people stopping by on their commute. Instead, it became the neighborhood’s go-to carryout and convenience mart.”
Symonds has had many long-time customers reach out to him to share personal anecdotes. His favorite was of a long-time customer who used to frequent the store when there was a pay phone just outside that she treated as her own personal line any time she needed to make any calls.