RALEIGH — More than 100 people filled a Baptist church hall Monday night, angry, frustrated and insulted that Kroger will soon pull its two grocery stores out of Southeast Raleigh, stranding many elderly residents who walk to shop.
They criticized the Ohio-based chain for shuttering the groceries on Martin Luther King Boulevard and New Bern Avenue without notice, and for ignoring letters and calls from concerned Raleigh officials.
Its a slap in the face at Southeast Raleigh, said City Councilman Eugene Weeks, speaking at Martin Street Baptist Church. Its a slap in the face of our community.
The Martin Luther King Boulevard store opened in 2002 to great fanfare. It offered a sign, the neighborhood believed, of better development to come. Kroger brought a drive-through pharmacy, a rarity in the area and a life-saver to many shoppers who arrive by bus, in cabs and on foot.
Since then, a pair of banks have opened in the shopping center at the corner of Raleigh Boulevard.
In November, Kroger announced that both stores were losing money. Both will close in mid-January. They employ a combined 196 people, some of whom may be relocated to other stores.
Developer Craig Ralph assured residents Monday that Krogers decision was strictly business and had nothing to do with the neighborhood. He stressed that Kroger is willing to let a new grocery take the space and will help in the search. Conversations with three stores are going on now, he said.
This is purely business, he said. Lets not get this attitude, They dont like us, they didnt return our mail. Theyre not turning their back on you.
But residents warned of Southeast Raleigh becoming a food desert, a district where fresh food and healthy ingredients are unavailable. City bus lines run in all directions from Kroger, but many who ride there will now have to switch buses midway to reach the closest Food Lions. Many at the meeting Monday said they hoped the neighborhood could find a store more in tune with the areas needs.
Somewhere in America, theres a successful African-American-owned grocery store, said neighborhood activist Bruce Lightner. What we need is to find their business model.
Others said they look for an alternative to a distant chain with thousands of stores, preferably one that doesnt stock its shelves with products rich in high-fructose corn syrup.
Kroger is a board room, said Chris Baskett, 22. Its a corporation. All they care about is money. ... They didnt even have the courtesy to send someone from their corporation. They sent the landlord down.