About four weeks.
After patronizing Kroger stores on Lamar Avenue and South Third Street for decades now, that’s how long customers have to figure out where they’ll shop, where they’ll get prescriptions filled, and even where they will bank. Citing losses in the millions, the grocery chain announced that those two locations will be closing on Feb. 3, 2018, along with a third in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
“Closing stores is always a difficult business decision to make,” said Scot Hendricks, president of Kroger’s Delta Division in a statement on Wednesday. “We review our store’s performance annually and unfortunately, despite our store team’s best efforts, profits steadily continued to decline at all three stores.”
For Kroger, it’s a business decision. The three stores combined had lost $6.3 million since 2014, the statement said. Nearly 240 employees across all three locations will be offered positions at other Kroger stores.
But for Orange Mound residents, the business move is more of an earthquake. Although the next nearest grocery store is literally across the street — even Kroger’s statement refers patrons to competitors Save-A-Lot and ALDI — many Orange Mound residents rely on Kroger for prescriptions as well.
Add in the fact that a Kroger store has served Orange Mound since 1954 (the original was at 2234 Lamar; the current location opened in 1985), and literally generations of Memphians are left wondering what happened and what to do next.
“It leaves a very distasteful feeling to know that this Kroger, having profited from all the business (this neighborhood) has given them since 1954, for them to think they can just say ‘peace out’ and everyone would be okay with it,” said Britney Thornton, an Orange Mound resident and activist. “I think it’s a poor business strategy, especially for a company that promotes ‘Kroger Cares.'”
Activists gathered outside the Kroger on Lamar to talk to media about closing the store. Many said they understand the move from a business perspective; they just wish they had more time to adjust.
“They’ve given us 30 days notice, so to speak,” said Angela Barksdale of Orange Mound. “It takes 30 days or more, for some of these senior citizens to get their prescriptions transferred.
“Some people have been coming to Kroger all their lives,” she continued. “And you want to shut us down in 30 days? Give us some alternatives. Give us a little more time. Show us compassion and support like we’ve shown you over the past years.”
Residents won’t be without a nearby pharmacy — there’s a Walgreens a few steps away from the Kroger on Lamar. But if patrons want to continue to pick up prescriptions at Kroger, the next nearest locations are the glitzy new Union Ave. Kroger (2.5 miles away) and the Whitehaven Kroger on Elvis Presley (7.9 miles away).
“People walk to this location because it’s convenient,” Thornton said. “It’s easy for me (to go to another Kroger) because I have a car. But it’s not that easy for many people in Orange Mound. That’s who we have to think about — the disenfranchised, and not the privileged.”
And then there’s Tri-State Bank. Having closed its downtown location in 2017 to relocate to Whitehaven, Tri-State Bank had operated an in-store branch at the Kroger on Lamar for years. The store’s closing will leave exactly one location for the city’s lone African-American owned bank.
“We learned of the unfortunate closing of the Kroger Store on Lamar, which houses our in-store bank, essentially at the same time as the general public,” said Lucy Shaw, Chairwoman of the Board of Tri-State Bank of Memphis. “We are certainly concerned, as we have been privileged to provide banking services from this location to the Orange Mound and surrounding communities since 1989…almost 30 years!
“Whenever we presume as a bank to close or relocate a branch there are significant regulatory requirements which must be met,” Shaw’s statement continued. “In this instance, the decision and the timing are outside our control. However, we are working diligently on solutions to provide the least inconvenience and best possible service for our customers.”
Thornton said that she and other activists are focused on maintaining stability in the community — whether Kroger stays or not.
“We’re still polling the community, to see what our citizens really want — whether that’s another set of services or getting Kroger to stay,” Thornton said. “When I go into other communities, I see lots of other quality options. We don’t deserve any less. I know we’re a poor community, but we need Kroger to take the lead and work with community leaders to make this a better community.”