The closings of two Kroger grocery stores in January will leave a pair of Southeast Raleigh shopping centers without anchor tenants and put at risk the employment of more than 100 workers, some of whom take public transit to work.
For 73-year-old Edith Mitchell, there are more basic questions to figure out. Mitchell worries about the loss of easy access to a gallon of milk or a prescription.
“I hate it,” Mitchell said as she loaded groceries into her car. “When you get a certain age, you can’t be running every which way to get your groceries and medicine. I’ve been coming here since they opened.”
‘Appalled’ by the decision
News of the closings rippled across Southeast Raleigh last week, prompting surprise among customers and anger among city leaders who say they were blindsided by the decision.
“We are definitely in an uproar,” said Councilman Eugene Weeks, who represents the area. “You’re talking about closing two supermarkets within the same district. We are appalled by their decision to do this without notifying somebody earlier.”
Weeks said he and Mayor Nancy McFarlane met with Kroger regional managers and came away disappointed that the store did not provide more than the required 60-day notice of its plans to shutter the locations on New Bern Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Weeks called it a “slap in the face to Southeast Raleigh.”
It’s unclear what, if anything, the city could have done to help. The company said the stores were losing money.
“Although Kroger has continued to use its resources to improve each location, both have been unprofitable for the company,” Kroger said in a release.
The Kroger store on New Bern Avenue opened in 1993; the store on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, just east of downtown, opened in 2002.
The closings mean residents in those parts of the city, home to many well-established African-American neighborhoods, will have few grocery options nearby, particularly if they rely on city bus transportation. The nearest competitor to the two stores is a Food Lion on Raleigh Boulevard.
Nationwide, public health advocates warn about the dangers of food deserts, which are areas with limited or no access to fresh, affordable foods needed for a healthy diet. The result can be an increase in obesity, diabetes and heart diseases, some health studies have shown.
“Living in a food desert has a profound impact on people’s food choices, said Carolyn Dunn, nutrition specialist with the N.C. Cooperative Extension at N.C. State University.
A line of taxi cabs was parked outside the Kroger on MLK Boulevard Wednesday afternoon, ferrying clients on errands and shopping trips.
Adam Chajai, a driver for Community Cab Co., said trips to the grocery store are a cornerstone of his business.
Passengers “don’t have transportation or they don’t have a license,” Chajai said. “It’s convenient” to make short trips in a cab.
Elderly people have an easier time remaining self-sufficient if they live near a grocery store, said Gwen Jones, who works at an insurance business in a strip of stores next to the MLK Kroger.
“I see so many people who have disabilities in the scooter chairs,” she said. “They’re able to get across the street and be very independent because the grocery store is here.”
The two stores employ 196 people. The workforce is unionized, and some of the workers may be placed at Kroger’s remaining 14 locations in the Triangle, said Carl York, a spokesman for the company’s mid-Atlantic region.
York said Kroger has no plans to close any of its other stores in the Triangle – the only North Carolina market where it has a presence. The Cincinnati-based company has been expanding in other parts of the country, but York said there are no plans to add stores here.