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August 26, 2014

Kroger to reopen this fall

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

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After some back and forth with the Birmingham Planning Board, the Kroger store at the corner of Maple and Woodward Avenue will get some changes to the outside of the store, in addition to a major overhaul of the interior.

BIRMINGHAM — As many local shoppers already know, the Kroger store at Woodward Avenue and Maple Road is closed for renovations.

What some might not know, however, is that the store will continue to be closed through much of the fall, according to the chain grocer. But the payoff, they said, will be ample upgrades and cosmetic improvements for the popular shopping center.

According to Ken McClure, consumer communications manager for Kroger Co. of Michigan, the Birmingham store is just one of several the chain is revamping this year across the state. While many of them will remain open during construction, the renovation planned at Woodward and Maple is so substantial that it called for a nearly complete closure of the store, with only the pharmacy remaining open until work is complete, expected to be in November.

“We’re putting $5.5 million into that location. While it’s always our preference to keep stores open during construction and mitigate any inconvenience to the customers to the best of our ability, in this instance, we just decided it couldn’t be done completely and intelligently,” said McClure.

He explained that among the plans for the store are new décor and a number of new fixtures, like a sushi bar, a soup and sandwich area, and a much improved deli department.

The company will be adding a Murray’s Cheese Shop inside the store, a Greenwich Village-based business with world-renowned cheeses that Kroger partnered with some time ago.

There will also be an expanded natural foods section, and more checkout and self-checkout lanes, among other features.

“We’re not expanding our footprint, but it’s going to look completely different,” said McClure. “When you walk in the front door, you will be stunned. It will be a world-class shopping experience.”

The preparations for the renovation took some time to get in order, according to Birmingham Planning Director Jana Ecker. She said the retailer came before the city’s Planning Board several times earlier this year to get approval for the project.

“The original goal was just to renovate the inside of the store,” said Ecker, explaining that the board was hoping, for the price of the project, that Kroger Co. would be willing to put some of that money towards improving the exterior of the store, as well.

It took some back and forth, but now the plans include Kroger’s ideas  — a lobby near the rear entrance — as well as some inherently Birmingham concepts, like attractive signage and outdoor seating.

“It’s safe to say we will see some improvements. The tower feature in front will have some landscaping and some new hardscape, so it’s more like a place where people can gather instead of people feeling like they’re stranded in the middle of the parking lot, which is what they feel like now,” she said. “It all goes back to walkability and relating more towards pedestrians, not just creating a giant parking lot along Woodward.”

As for the inside of the store, while much of it will look different, McClure assured shoppers that they can look forward to seeing the same familiar faces that served them before the store closed.

“Our employees are part of Local 867 United Food and Commercial Workers, so we’re working closely with the union, and all employees at that location have been moved to other locations, depending on whether they were willing to work in another department,” he said.

Luckily, he explained, the displacement wasn’t a terrible inconvenience for most employees during this particular closure, as the Birmingham store has other Kroger locations nearby where they could work in the interim.

“We have six other stores within a 5-mile radius. In this instance, it was actually a bit easier to have options for people for the several months it will be closed. Sometimes you get a store that’s a bit more isolated and it can be a real challenge. In this case, it was fairly easy.”

While it should be simple enough to bring employees back once the work is done, McClure can only speculate how customers will respond when it comes time for the Woodward and Maple Kroger to reopen in November, after having to shop elsewhere for so long.

“Like I said, this would not be our preferred method, unfortunately (to close). We’re certainly aware that we have the potential to lose customers, but I think enough people care about the brand that they’re willing to accept the temporary inconvenience. Once it opens, there will be more than enough to draw people back, and they’ll see it was clearly worth the wait.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.