Flanked by Memphis area leaders and clergy, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and CME Presiding Bishop Henry Williamson celebrate the opening of Orange Mounds new Superlo grocery store. Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

The building at Lamar and Airways is an ideal location for a full-service grocery store – and for many years, Kroger was that store, serving the residents of nearby Orange Mound. So when Kroger announced it was vacating the store in early 2018, the news was devastating. 

It wasn’t just where people bought their groceries. Prescriptions were filled at the pharmacy. Tri-State Bank maintained a branch there. When Kroger closed, jobs went away. Residents who rely on public transportation were forced to shop miles from home. Despite outrage from city and community leaders, Kroger closed the Orange Mound store on Feb. 3.

But Wednesday morning (Dec. 4), the parking lot was once again bustling as hundreds of celebrants gathered to celebrate the arrival of Superlo to fill the space – once again giving Orange Mound easy access to a big box grocer. 

“This is what we cried, prayed, dreamed, and marched for,” said CME Presiding Bishop Henry Williamson, who mobilized clergy and community leaders to solve the problem. 

“Quite frankly, I am not surprised by the turnout of the Orange Mound community,” he continued. “Everyone is just so happy and thrilled that we have a new store here and many people have easy access once again.”

Community leaders and elected officials blasted Kroger for abandoning the neighborhood, even as they worked to find a replacement retailer. Williamson even recruited Rev. Jesse Jackson to come to Memphis to show support.

But ultimately, it was Kroger who cleared the way for the reopening. In October, Kroger ceded the property to Superlo – in essence making an estimated $500,000 gift to a competing grocer so Superlo could do business where Kroger would not.

“I just want to say to everyone, thank you for being here,”  said Mayor Jim Strickland in his opening remarks. “This has truly been a team effort. There are so many members of the team here. Councilwoman Jamita Swearengen, it could not have (happened) without your leadership. 

“And we could not have done it without Kroger,” Strickland said, spurring laughter from the crowd. “That’s the last time that name is mentioned here. But to the Superlo family, thank you. What a win for Memphis.”

Strickland acknowledged the work of the EDGE Board, the Office of Housing and Community Development and Shelby County Commissioner Edmund Ford Jr. in attracting Superlo.

“Most of all, I want to thank the Orange Mound community for standing up and saying, ‘We deserve better’ and helping to lead the way. We could not have done it without you,” Strickland said.

District 4 Councilwoman Swearengen also had brief remarks prior to the ceremonial ribbon-cutting.

“This day came because of all of us,” Swearengen said. “All of us shared with Kroger as a community that we wanted a better grocery store here in this community. We were patient. We fought. You all had meetings. I had meetings. Churches discussed it…in the words of Sam Cooke, we knew a change was gonna come.

“They’ve had improvements in East Memphis. They’ve had improvements at (Crosstown) Concourse. But in the words of George Jefferson, we finally got a piece of the pie,” she said, referring to “The Jeffersons,” a 70s sitcom. “And I appreciate Bishop Henry Williamson who initiated this and brought Jesse Jackson in. He said, ‘You are my CME member,’ and he had all of us sitting at the table.” 

Swearengen presented a special gift bag and certificate to Superlo owner Randy Stepherson. “I just want to say that you have blessed our hearts,” she said. “Thank you for investing and believing in this community.” 

Stepherson said he was excited about the opening. 

“It took us a little while (to open in Orange Mound), but that was because we were just opening a store in Parkway Village,” Stepherson said. “We are delighted to also be serving the Orange Mound community. I felt like there would be a great turnout. This is wonderful.” 

Swearengen grabbed one of Superlo’s weekly circulars to make sure people knew where the deals were.

“Before we cut the ribbon, I want y’all to know that pork chops are 99 cents a pound; neckbones are 99 cents a pound. Coca-cola is $1,” she chuckled. 

“Come on in and help yourself. We are just so proud. It’s clean, too, and the restroom is nice,” Swearengen said. “That says a lot. That means they have pride in their business and they respect us as a community.”