CLARKSDALE – In a region where residents consistently seek healthier food options, an announcement of a grocery store shutting its doors raised concerns for community members of where will they shop for their fresh eats.
Emotions ranging from outrage to sadness was seen through Facebook comments, statuses, and posts when the Kroger Delta Division announced last month that the Kroger here would be closing, reported by the Clarksdale Press Register.
According to Mayor Chuck Espy, the store will officially close in February. Espy said his administration is working relatively fast with finding new businesses to replace Kroger.
In a phone call with Mississippi Today last week, Espy said he was very confident that a new business will be housed in that facility and there are currently about three entities who have shown interest. Currently, there is a negotiation process between the landlord and the entities.
Espy added that its not a matter of if the building will be vacant, but now it’s a matter of who will take over.
Thanks in large part to its 75-year-presence in Clarksdale, Kroger became a primary grocery store for many who were in awe upon hearing of the news of its closing. For remote customers, they mentioned this was one of their main outlets to healthy, fresh foods. For former employees, they recall a management that was flexible and convenient.
In a time where food deserts, or lack of accessibility to get fresh foods, fruits and vegetables, are surfacing all over the country, the Clarksdale community questions the implications of this decision on where they shop for their food.
However, the departure leaves two chain supermarkets, Save-A-Lot and Walmart, and a few locally owned store options. But Kroger’s long-time presence helped it to remain popular with a loyal following. The first store opened on March 16, 1942. The current store located on 870 South State St. opened on March 1, 1987.
Michelle Taylor, 22, said she was in shock to find that her family’s favorite grocery store was closing. Taylor is a native of Jonestown, which is about 12 miles north of Clarksdale.
She said Kroger was her family’s go-to store.
“My mama always shopped at Kroger because they had deals and she always had coupons,” she said.
Jonestown doesn’t have grocery store options, so traveling to other cities and towns is the only choice, said Taylor. Since learning of the closing, Taylor said her family will travel the nearly 30 miles to Batesville to shop.
Tanesha Johnson, 25, Clarksdale native and resident, was a former employee of Kroger. She worked there at the age of 18 while she was a freshman in college and continued working there until she was 21. She said working there with a heavy class load was never a concern because the managers were flexible with her schedule.
“Kroger would work around it,” she said in a telephone interview. “When I was at home after being gone five out of seven days for clinicals, they made sure that you were paid all of your hours, so with that it was great.”
Johnson noted that Kroger was the only place she shopped.
“With Kroger closing, its really going to put a damper on the community because I know when I was working there — even after working there — the same people that shopped there when I was there are still shopping in there now. It’s a routine every week for some people,” she said.
Not all online posts said they’d miss the chain grocer. Some mentioned that they never shopped at Kroger, preferring instead the other Clarksdale options.
According to the Center for Rural Affairs 2010 report, a few reasons why grocery stores in rural communities close include: competition with other large chain grocery stores, high operating costs, lack of community support, taxes and regulations and low sales volume.
Scot Hendricks, president of the Kroger Delta Division, said in a press release that profits declined at the store in Clarksdale.
“We review our stores’ performances annually and unfortunately, despite our store team’s best efforts, profits steadily continued to decline at our Clarksdale store,” said Hendricks. “We want to thank our Clarksdale associates, customers and community for their support over the years.”
A Mississippi Today reporter reached out to Kroger representatives for further comment, but did not receive a response.
Espy said it’s unfortunate that Kroger will leave, but Kroger is in a re-organizational period and Clarksdale isn’t the only one on the chopping block.
The Kroger Delta Division announced the closing of two other stores in Memphis, according to WMC Action News 5. They reported that since 2014 those three stores will have lost $6.4 million by the end of January 2018.
Looking forward, community members provided suggestions on how the community could patronize the remaining options — including the family-owned stores in the area.
Others suggested how the Kroger venue could be utilized to create a Clarksdale Farmers Market. Mark Walker, a Clarksdale native, said this would give investors and local farmers an opportunity to “come together to bring fresh food, fresh produce, as well as other food items and services” to that location.
“I think having a community owned grocery store would serve Clarksdale very well,” said Walker. “Considering the history of this town and all it has to offer, why not?”