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VOL. 128 | NO. 106 | Friday, May 31, 2013

Retail Resurgence

Whitehaven stakeholders hopeful Kroger investment only beginning

By Bill Dries

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When leaders of the Delta Division of Kroger kicked off the $5 million renovation of the chain’s Whitehaven supermarket, some of the area’s community and business leaders were looking beyond the store’s parking lot.

The Whitehaven Kroger at 1212 E. Shelby Drive is getting a makeover. Community advocates hope the store’s $5 million renovation is just a start of better days ahead for Whitehaven retail.  
Daily News/Lance Murphey

The latest Memphis-area store to roll out its plans for a remake in a year that will see $50 million in renovations and remakes in the area is part of a much larger and longer remake of Whitehaven’s main street – Elvis Presley Boulevard. The Kroger is at East Shelby Drive and Elvis Presley Boulevard.

Memphis City Council member Harold Collins says it is about more than the long-needed streetscape improvements from Brooks Road to Shelby Drive that began last November at the Brooks Road intersection.

“This is about the resurgence of a once great community,” Collins said. “Now we will become greater as long as we stay together and stay focused. Forty-three million to renovate the street is just a precipitant of what we can become in the future.”

The privately funded Kroger renovation gets at the heart of what Collins and Whitehaven merchants have been saying since the days years ago when they lobbied chain restaurants to simply keep a presence on the boulevard. They argue the area has the kind of retail-buying potential that retailers should be interested in.

Southland Mall manager Michael Rixter says the 4-year-old Walmart store in North Mississippi and other shopping south of the state line has meant competition for retail dollars in Whitehaven and that pass through Whitehaven on the way to North Mississippi.

But those shoppers who travel the U.S. highway that is Elvis Presley Boulevard are also seeing the retail potential before they get to the state line.

“It was a serious influx of business that came from the north,” Richter said. “Passing Southland Mall they would go to Walmart and come back by. It has helped.”

He said he expects the Kroger renovation will help what has been the mixed bottom line from the North Mississippi competition.

“We’ve seen an uptick and there’s no question about the fact that we lost market share to northern Mississippi when the mall opened down there,” he said referring to the Southaven Towne Center. “We’ve lost market share to Wolfchase Galleria and other large shopping areas. Southland Mall being what it is to this area, it’s still the No. 1 area for retailers to come and open up for business and have shoppers come.”

The Whitehaven Kroger at 1212 E. Shelby Drive is getting a makeover that will include more frozen cases, soup and sushi, new decor and consolidation of the seafood and meat sections, and deli and bakery sections. 

Daily News/Lance Murphey

Rixter points out the mall pays $600,000 in property taxes and sees the streetscape changes to come as a return on that. Collins was a bit more pointed, saying he hoped police would crack down on what he called “sidewalk vendors” who set up outside the fixed businesses along the corridor on the edges of the parking lots with outparcels or buildings.

“If you are interested in putting up your shop in Whitehaven, if you are thinking about if there are resources, if there are families or people who have the income to sustain your business – that answer is yes,” Collins said as he waved a Kroger card.

The barcode card is used by shoppers for discounts. It is also used extensively by Kroger executives to track buyer habits and what they are buying at what location.

“Let me be clear. If we in Whitehaven did not carry our Kroger cards, rest assured Kroger wouldn’t spend $5 million at this store,” Collins said.

The supermarket is next to the Southbrook Mall on a parcel of land that set a record for Whitehaven real estate when it was bought by Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson in 1967. The 28 acres, then outside the city limits of Memphis, sold for $41,071.42 an acre.

Wilson built the mall and it opened in 1972 after the city’s first shopping mall, Southland Mall, directly across East Shelby Drive, had been open for five years.

Southland Mall, locally owned and managed, has held on and undergone several renovations over the years.

Southbrook has not had that kind of attention over the intervening decades. And with storefronts along its front instead of a defined mall entrance, it is hard to tell it ever was a mall.

A year ago, owners of Southbrook pitched a $10.2 million renovation of the mall and wanted the city to put up $6.8 million of that. The administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. was hesitant then.

The money Kroger is putting into its neighboring store is a challenge to the owners of Southbrook, Collins said.

This $5 million investment means that Southbrook Mall will have to locate its funding to come up to par,” he added. “It cannot stand next to something like this and look the way it looks today, which means that maybe the city will have to get more aggressive in making sure it gets the funding.”

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