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VOL. 123 | NO. 10 | Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Kroger Latest Business to Leave Hickory Hill

By Rosalind Guy

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For years, Hickory Hill residents have watched the neighborhood slowly decline as one business after another leaves.

Along the stretch of Winchester Road between Hickory Hill and Riverdale roads, a number of businesses have moved out, including Smokey Bones Barbeque & Grill, CompUSA and Fisherman's Buffet, among others.

The latest blow to the area is the departure of Kroger at Winchester and Riverdale. The store closed last week.

Little support

Depending on whom you ask, perspectives differ about what's taking place in the area.

Residents and other stakeholders have voiced concerns about everything from businesses leaving the area to crime and blight.

Michael Webb, an ROTC teacher at Wooddale High School and the former owner of Fisherman's Buffet, was discouraged by the lack of support he said he feels he received from neighborhood residents.

"We were expecting to get the support of a nearby church," he said, "and then the other local people in the community ... but people were still content with going to Ryan's and all those places ..."

After spending two years to get the restaurant ready for business, it was open only six months. Webb said he is not alone. He has witnessed other small-business owners suffer a similar fate.

"There was a lady who had a boutique shop and she had some real nice clothes," Webb said. "And she left after I did. She couldn't keep it open either. You look around at that area ... and it's a ghost town."

If the opportunity arises, Webb said he wouldn't mind opening a similar business in another part of town. But it won't be anytime soon, because he took a big financial hit when the restaurant closed.

"I used all of my own money, with loans and stuff like that hoping that the people would come support us," he said. "I didn't win at it. I didn't win at that part, anyway."

Profits to be found elsewhere?

Kroger's decision to leave the Cross Creek shopping center might not have as much to do with the neighborhood as it does with not seeing as much profit at that store, said Danny Buring, managing partner at The Shopping Center Group.

"Kroger has a store in all four directions around that site, north, south, east and west, basically forming a diamond around it," Buring said. "So I think that store closing is more about Kroger competing with (itself)."

Calls to Kroger corporate headquarters were not returned by press time.

Kroger has been at that corner of Winchester and Riverdale since 1996. Buring said that by keeping the store in that location, the company was keeping other retailers away.

So, rather than being solely a symptom of decline in the area, the store's closing more likely is a strategic move on Kroger's part.

"It must not have been profitable," Buring said. "They're not making money by closing the store down."

And while the store closing might not be good for Cross Creek, Buring said it might not be very difficult to find a tenant to fill the vacant space - even with nearby CompUSA also closing recently.

But CompUSA left because the company was losing money, according to news reports. Investment firm Gordon Brothers Group LLC bought the struggling business last month and immediately announced plans to close more than half its stores throughout the United States.

Kmart left the space across Riverdale from the shopping center a few years ago after deciding to close three of its four Memphis stores.

"It's not that the area changed and nobody wants to be there, I mean that's part of it, but it's not all of it," Buring said. "It's still at a very, very busy intersection. There's a lot of traffic there. A lot of people from Olive Branch go home that way or come to work that way. And there's a brand-new Starbucks that just opened there. There are some positives there, but there's also a lot of vacant space in that trade area."

Starbucks plans to open a store in the parking lot where the Kmart was, Buring said. The building is already there, but so far that's about all there is to show for the coffee business.

Of all the vacant space in the area, Buring said, the approximately 50,000 square feet vacated by Kroger is among some of the most prime space. But other major tenants are still in the center, such as Home Depot, Old Navy, Babies "R" Us and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

PROPERTY SALES 23 23 1,365
MORTGAGES 21 21 1,068
BUILDING PERMITS 117 117 3,173