Kroger Midtown Expansion Gets Mixed Reaction

By Sarah Baker

While the expansion of Kroger’s Midtown store is still in the early stages, the effects are apparent in the surrounding community.

Kroger Delta Division earlier this month bought the Belvedere Apartments for $2.6 million. It then purchased the Kroger store on Union Avenue that it was leasing from Art Seessels’ family, as well as two adjacent parcels for a combined $4.6 million, bringing Kroger’s ownership of property in the area from South Idlewild Street to LeMaster Street along Union.

The deeds come a year after Kroger acquired eight Memphis area Schnucks supermarkets.

“The first question I was asked when we purchased the store to begin with was when are you going to do something different and new or fix the parking in that location,” said Kroger spokesman Joe Bell. “We think it’d be a major boon to the business area if we could build a new store in that area, as well as our customers appreciate it.”

The existing store’s ground floor service area is less than 30,000 square feet. Planning will start for a new store to be built on the site in the coming years.

“We would love to build one tomorrow, but it doesn’t happen that way,” Bell said. “A store something like our Poplar and Cleveland store is about what would fit on the lot, but we are looking at several options. Poplar and Cleveland happens to be 50,000 square feet.”

Steps that must happen before construction commences include meeting the new city codes, working with the Office of Planning & Development, plus razing the Belvedere Apartments to prepare the property for the new store to be built.

“We’ll have about 18 months is what I’m being told,” said Barbara Gills, 21-year resident manager of the Belvedere. “We’re not leasing apartments now. … I have not been able to since June. We’re sad that the building is being torn down because everybody here expected to stay here probably the rest of their life, because I have a lot of senior citizens here.”

Jeannie Cockrell, assistant manager at Rosecrest Apartments, said she’s noticed a definite uptick in traffic since Kroger’s announcement.

“I would say where I usually got one person a month from over at The Belvedere, it’s gone up to probably three or four a week coming over and checking us out,” Cockrell said. “Right now, we’re at 98 (percent occupied), but I do have a good bit of availability coming up in the fall, so we really are thankful for the added traffic coming through from the Belvedere.”

Others are pleased with the anticipated increase in customer experience at the new store. Especially because it will cut back on Midtowners having to commute to do their grocery shopping.

“People are driving out east to go to other Krogers or even Whole Foods or Fresh Market or something like that. I’m hoping that this’ll keep people around here more often,” said the Rev. Dr. Stephen Montgomery, pastor at Idlewild Presbyterian Church. “I just can’t help but feel that this would be good for Midtown.”

The new development will also get rid of two eyesores in the area – the former Trousseau building at 1775 Union and Brice Antiques & Interiors’ vacant space at 1793 Union.

“It certainly would help by tearing that old Trousseau that’s been empty for decades,” Montgomery said.

Yet Midtown residents are still longing for some healthy grocery competition in the area, said Nancy Willis, president of Central Gardens Association.

“We would really like to have a grocery to compete with Kroger in Midtown so that we’d have more of a variety and more choices. We don’t have choices now,” Willis said. “We’d like to see not such a monopoly of groceries.”

Willis added that last year’s association president, Steven King, was contacted by Fresh Market, which was inquiring about the demand in the area.

“They said they would very much like to come to Midtown,” Willis said. “They were looking at vacant space.”