Midtown: Community

Community mobilizing too late

Kroger is leaving. Two stores, actually.

The Hargett Street YWCA is gone.

So is our Wake County schools diversity policy.

And so, too, are possibilities of a city stadium to be shared by St. Augustine’s and Shaw universities, and a Walmart on the cusp of Southeast Raleigh growth and economic development.

Thing is, it’s not until it’s too late that we, as a community, muster the wherewithal to fight for what’s ours, or could be.

It makes me wanna holler. Shucks! Why are we, the community, always last to know?

We were blindsided by the closing of the YWCA on Hargett Street – until the doors were locked. We slept while a massive pre-election campaign seated a new school board that promptly dismantled our nationally recognized school diversity policy – and then dismantled itself. And, depending on your side of the stadium and supercenter coins, we might have missed chances to capitalize economically.


But this thing with the Krogers closing next month on New Bern Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard doesn’t set quite right with me. Not this time. Not again.

Have we really been done wrong; disenfranchised on the sneak tip? Or have we, once again, missed an opportunity to stake our claim, to participate, to help make decisions that make our community what we need it to be so we can grow, develop and prosper, individually and in partnership with that which benefits all of Raleigh?

With Kroger, it comes down to they say-we say, so it’s hard to tell.

Kroger tried to tell us the stores were struggling nearly three years prior to its Nov. 15 confirmation of the closings, said Carl York, a spokesman for the Ohio-based company’s mid-Atlantic region. Company representatives met with then-Mayor Charles Meeker and James West, a former city council member and then-county commissioner, asking for help in getting more of us to shop there, York said. And there were outreach attempts, he said, to “activate the community; including focus groups about store format and selections, and community visits by store managers.”

“We don’t build them to close them,” York told me, adding the MLK store lost $1.5 million in 2011. “We kept both those stores open longer than we typically would any other store.

“But the numbers didn’t line up – not enough customers or sales.”

Not many could believe it in the crowd of about 150 city and community leaders and residents who showed up for a public meeting Monday night at Martin Street Baptist Church. With full parking lots, there’s no way the stores didn’t have enough customers, many said.

“Everything doesn’t always look as it’s presented,” meeting organizer Corey Branch said later.

“The fact that we’re getting information last or second-hand will always be the issue until a business invests in the community,” said Branch, a southeast Raleigh resident who partnered with the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association and others to hold the public meeting.

Investing in the community, Branch said, means a business that invites and entices us to brand loyalty, a place that whose business model markets to our community, an area designated as a “food desert” by the USDA.

“A full parking lot does not mean there’s been a full investment in the community,” Branch said.

The best thing I heard at Monday’s public hearing was a proactive plan to participate in the search for a new tenant by drafting a manifesto outlining what we want in businesses that become our neighbors.

Business is business, yes. But our business, as a community of folks who truly are poorer and more disenfranchised, for so many reasons, is to be aware. Pay attention.

Our history tells us we can’t sit around and wait for someone to tell us what we need to know. It might be too late. And history repeats.

Monday’s meeting should have happened a long time ago. A message should have trickled to the community after the meeting between Kroger and city officials – and incumbents should have been filled in. Community members who expressed concern Monday night about the quality of food at the MLK store being a reason to stay away should have shouted demands for better – from the rooftops.

Rumblings of any magnitude, dear neighbors and city and county leaders, mean MOVE – before it’s too late.