Kroger to close all its stores in the Triangle; 1,500 workers affected

National grocery chain Kroger announced Wednesday that it would be closing its stores in the Triangle.

The Cincinnati-based grocer, which owns regional grocer Harris Teeter, said it would be closing a total of 14 stores by Aug. 14.

The company said about 1,500 employees would be affected, more than half of whom are part-time.

In its release, Kroger said that the Triangle market has too many grocery stores.

“After a thorough evaluation of the market for a significant time period, we have decided to close our stores in the highly competitive Raleigh-Durham market,” said Jerry Clontz, president of the mid-Atlantic division of Kroger, in a statement. “While we have had some success, we have not been able to grow our business the way we would like in this market.

“The retail environment is challenging and changing in Raleigh-Durham,” Clontz said. “Many retail analysts say the Raleigh-Durham market is over-stored.”

The company plans to sell all 14 stores, which are in its mid-Atlantic division. It is currently under contract with Food Lion for one store, Crunch Fitness for one store and Harris Teeter for eight stores. Kroger bought Matthews-based Harris Teeter in 2014, but Kroger mid-Atlantic and Harris Teeter are two separate business entities within the Kroger family of companies.

Clontz said employees would be offered job fairs and job placement services.

Barbara Stewart has worked in the bakery at the Kroger on Six Forks Road in Raleigh for 11 years. She learned the news from her manager Wednesday morning, but said she wasn't surprised. "We knew this was in the making. It's a business. If you're not making the money, you're not making the money. It is what it is."

Stewart said she'll be fine because she works part time as a nurse and can turn to that full time. She's worried more about her co-workers who have nothing else to fall back on.

Moussa Toure, who has stocked groceries at the store for more than 12 years, said employees were being asked if they wanted to transfer to stores in other states. Toure said that wasn't an option for him. He can't afford to get out of his lease and doesn't want to mess up his credit. "There's nothing I can do, but find another job. That's all. It's very bad. I have to pay my rent."

Harris Teeter's plans

Harris Teeter, whose existing locations won't be affected, said it would be remodeling those Kroger locations after those stores close in August. It added that pharmacies at five of those locations would remain open during the remodeling.

“Kroger has a long tradition of operating in this area, as does Harris Teeter,” said Danna Robinson, communication manager for Harris Teeter, in a statement. “Our valued associates have proudly served these Raleigh-Durham communities for decades, so these store locations are especially attractive to us. We plan to invest in remodeling a number of these locations to better serve our shoppers in this growing and vibrant market.”

The locations of the eight stores that will become Harris Teeter stores are:

  • 202 W. NC 54 in Durham

  • 3457 Hillsborough Road in Durham

  • 5116 N. Roxboro Road in Durham (pharmacy will remain open during remodel)

  • 1273 N.W. Maynard Road in Cary (pharmacy will remain open during remodel)

  • 8345 Creedmoor Road in Raleigh

  • 940 U.S. 64 in Apex (pharmacy will remain open during remodel)

  • 1802 North Point Dr. in Durham (pharmacy will remain open during remodel)

  • 1371 E. Broad St. in Fuquay-Varina (pharmacy will remain open during remodel)

Crunch Fitness will acquire the store at 6300 Creedmoor Road in Raleigh and Food Lion will acquire the store at 7905 Falls of Neuse Road in Raleigh, the company said.

The other stores Kroger is trying to sell are:

  • 2680 Timber Drive, Garner
  • 350 Six Forks Road, Raleigh
  • 3420 Southwest Durham Drive, Durham
  • 3825 S. Roxboro St., Durham

Customers disappointed

Thomas Guastello, president of Center Management, the real estate company that owns the 350 E. Six Forks Road Kroger building in Raleigh, said that while the closing came as a surprise, he had been aware that Kroger was re-evaluating the situation in the Triangle.

“We had been very pleased with their sales” numbers, he said. “They had been continuing to grow sales there. It’s an excellent location, and we kind of thought they would have been around for a while.”

The future of the 90,000-square-foot Six Forks location is unclear at this point, but Center Management has already received interest in the store, Guastello said.

Guastello added that the arrival of a Wegmans grocery store across the street might have influenced the company’s decisions not to put a Harris Teeter in its place.

"I know they presented it to (Harris Teeter), but they declined to come there," he said. "They would be right at the doorstep of a fierce competitor."

Customers at the Six Forks store after the news came out on Wednesday said they were surprised.

"I'm very disappointed and I'm very shocked because this is very busy all the time. It's a busy spot," said Dee Simmons of Rocky Mount. Simmons, who works in Raleigh, said she shops at the Kroger on her lunch break as do her colleagues. "I am going to tell my co-workers when I get back to work: There will be no more Kroger runs."

Athena Mineo of Raleigh had just found out the bad news from a employee in the produce department.

"I asked him how he was doing and he said, 'Well, not well because they're closing the stores.'

"I know Wegmans is opening next to Costco," she added. "I figured that might affect it. But all of them (the Triangle stores)? That's very sad. ... I love the store. It has a lot of nice produce and a lot of Kroger brands I like. ... There's certain things no one else has (like) my cat litter."

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer