When the Southeast Raleigh Kroger closed two years ago, it left the local community without a grocery store and a shopping center without an anchor to draw customers.
Variety Wholesalers on Thursday will open a Roses in the building on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the first step in a strategy to bring groceries back to a neighborhood where there are few local options for fresh, affordable food.
The 60,000-square-foot building has been divided into the 42,000-square-foot Roses and an 18,000 square foot grocery store called “Save-A-Lot” that is expected to open in April. Variety Wholesalers will own and operate the Save-A-Lot, part of a chain of 1,200 discount grocery stores.
“We wanted it for a Roses store, but we also wanted to have a positive effect on the neighborhood,” said Variety Wholesalers executive Wilson Sawyer.
The company has closed its Roses Express location on Poole Road because of the new location.
Sawyer said the company expects the mix of items available at Roses and Save-A-Lot will encourage residents to make the trip to the shopping center.
“We’ll make it work because we can do more in the 60,000-square-foot space, offer more reasons for people to shop there,” he said.
Kroger left the location in January 2013, citing declining sales figures. The company’s exit prompted an outcry from the neighborhood and elected officials about how the loss would affect the neighborhood.
Some residents don’t have cars and rely on several buses to get to the nearest full-service grocery stores about a mile away. Of the 4,000 households within a mile of the old store, 25 percent earn less than $15,000 annually and more than half earn less than $35,000.
Danny Coleman, chairman of the South Central Citizens Advisory Council, said the stores are a needed addition to the neighborhood.
“It offers more opportunities for shopping. People need to be able to go in and get the goods and services they need,” he said.
Variety Wholesalers bought the Kroger building last summer for $2.57 million.
Ties to Pope
The move drew criticism from a few local leaders who said the company is too closely tied to conservative causes. Art Pope, a former state budget director, chairs the company’s board.
The Rev. Dr. Earl Johnson, president of the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association, said Pope’s politics could discourage some in the historically black neighborhood from shopping at the new store.
He said a local owner would have been a preferable buyer.
“We wanted somebody in the community who knows the community and understands the needs of the people in the community,” he said.
Developer Craig Ralph owns the strip of stores that share the parking lot with Kroger, including a coin-operated laundry, an insurance office, a barber shop and a SunTrust bank.
Without an anchor store, there’s less chance for spillover foot traffic to those businesses, making the Roses a welcome addition, he said.
“The more people who come because of the anchor, the more business you get,” he said.
Ralph is hopeful the neighborhood will embrace the store.
“It’s not that hard to get to, and it might be a lot easier than going to Cameron Village and parking – or searching for parking,” he said.