The only supermarket in Augusta’s central business district will shut down in a month, leaving residents in the urban core at least two miles from the nearest grocery store.
On Monday, the Kroger Co. announced it will close its 15th Street market Feb. 28. The 35-year-old store, the anchor tenant of Central Square shopping center at the corner of John C. Calhoun Expressway, had been struggling for years.
“The store has experienced declining sales and negative profit over an extended period of time,” said Glynn Jenkins, spokesman for Kroger’s Atlanta division, which oversees its Augusta-area stores.
The shopping center’s owner, the MCG Foundation, was not surprised by the announcement. Foundation President Ian Mercier said that Kroger had been on a short-term lease for a couple of years and that it tried to negotiate a lower lease rate in 2012.
“Kroger has been saying for a number of years that this is not a profitable location, but being sensitive to the fact the area is a food desert – which we agree – they agreed to keep it open as long as they could,” he said.
The foundation, which was given the property in 1997 from the estate of Augusta radio pioneer George Weiss, has had long-term plans to redevelop land into an upscale commercial zone to serve as an aesthetically pleasing gateway to Augusta University’s Downtown Campus.
The development would feature a hotel with meeting rooms in addition to office, residential and retail space. The foundation’s acquisition of the city-owned bus maintenance facility just south of the shopping center is contingent on its ability to secure a grocery tenant for the future gateway project, Mercier said.
“That’s easier said than done,” Mercier said, adding that the area lacks the critical mass to support grocery sales in the evening hours. Many of the store’s customers are medical district employees who do the bulk of their evening shopping in suburban areas where they live.
“One of the things that will have to happen is is we’ve got to create a draw to this area daytime and nighttime,” Mercier said. “That’s why there’s a residential component to our development.”
Aside from the Harrisburg section, the Kroger at 501 15th St. served primarily downtown and east Augusta neighborhoods.
Based on straight-line measurements, the next nearest grocery store is the North Augusta Publix, situated just over two miles across the state line at the corner of East Martintown Road and Knox Avenue.
The nearest stores served by Augusta Public Transit would be the Daniel Village Bi-Lo at 2803 Wrightsboro Road and the Harvey’s Supermarket in Southgate Plaza shopping center at 1631 Gordon Highway, both of which are about three miles away. The Kroger at 2801 Washington Road is across the street from the Publix at 2816 Washington Road, and they are roughly 3 1/4 miles to the west.
The downtown Kroger has operated in Central Square shopping center for 35 years. The 40,000-square-foot store is about 30,000 square feet smaller than modern Kroger stores and is about 80,000 square feet smaller than the Cincinnati-based company’s “Marketplace” megastores.
Jenkins said all 110 associates, represented by the United Food & Commercial Workers Union, will be considered for reassignment to other Kroger stores “as outlined in the company’s collective bargaining agreement.” He said Kroger representatives will meet with associates to discuss reassignments and additional options in the coming weeks.
He said Kroger “remains committed to the Augusta area” and opened a 123,000-square-foot Marketplace store at 435 Lewiston Road in Grovetown during the summer.
The company also is in the middle of a marketwide remodeling plan. The most recent renovations were completed at its 1284 Knox Ave. store in North Augusta in November.
After Kroger vacates, Central Square’s only remaining tenants will be Nails Now, Hair Max Beauty Supply and Happy China.
Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or email@example.com.