The end of an era for Riverland Kroger

Longtime location to close for good Jan. 7

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published December 22, 2011

 After decades in the same location, the Riverland Kroger will shut down Jan. 7, 2012. A corporate spokesman said the company weighed a need for renovations, investment in the surrounding area and the proximity of other Krogers when making the decision.

After decades in the same location, the Riverland Kroger will shut down Jan. 7, 2012. A corporate spokesman said the company weighed a need for renovations, investment in the surrounding area and the proximity of other Krogers when making the decision.

Photo by Cortney Casey

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“Thank you for calling your friendly Riverland Kroger store,” the automated voice answering the phone chirps now.

But come Jan. 7, 2012, that friendly store will be no more.

After several decades, Kroger plans to close its location in the Riverland Plaza shopping center, at Riverland and Van Dyke, south of Hall Road.

Dale Hollandsworth with Kroger corporate communications called it a “last resort” decision that’s been mulled for several years, and with the current lease expiring, it’s finally being executed.

“A store closing is not taken lightly, by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “It is figured every way could be humanly possible.”

Calling such choices “gut wrenching,” Hollandsworth said Kroger, as a grocery store chain, feels “an obligation to the neighborhood,” but “we are a publicly traded company, and we have a fiduciary duty to our stockholders,” he said. “And sometimes, eventually, the tough decisions just have to be made.”

Customer volume, population trends, a store’s condition and whether there are other Kroger stores in close proximity all play into such decisions, said Hollandsworth.

In this case, the Kroger on Schoenherr, north of Canal — a former Farmer Jack — has attracted many customers who also use, or previously relied on, the Riverland location, he said. The Schoenherr/Canal site is one of several that resulted from Kroger’s purchase of 20 metro Detroit Farmer Jack stores in 2007.

“There is a tremendous amount of ‘cross-shopping,’” said Hollandsworth. “Three-quarters of the (Riverland) customers already cross-shop at that store.”

There also are Kroger stores at 15 Mile and Ryan, at 18 Mile and Dequindre, and just over the Warren border, at 14 Mile and Schoenherr.

Hollandsworth declined to say how many customers the Riverland store serves annually, deeming it proprietary information.

According to Hollandsworth, the company also assesses the level of investment occurring in the surrounding area and in the shopping centers in which the stores are located.

The Riverland store is showing its age, and it would require substantial renovations if it were to remain open, he said.

“We’re unable to invest in that store at this time, so we think with the amount of cross-shopping that already exists, with the two stores, it was reasonable that we could close this,” he said. “It is not a shopping experience (at Riverland) that I would think those customers deserve. And they can get a much better shopping experience just a few miles away.”

Hollandsworth was uncertain how long, exactly, the Riverland Kroger has existed, but “it has been there for quite some time,” he said. “I’ve had people tell me it’s been there for 30, 40 years.”

City Development Director Don Mende said that Kroger has existed at least for the 26 years he’s worked for Sterling Heights, but the city does not have any formal records documenting the store’s tenure in that location.

Hollandsworth emphasized that no layoffs will occur as a result of the closure.

“All employees will be given opportunities to transfer to other stores that are reasonable distances from their homes,” he said. “No one would have to lose their job over this situation.”

Reached via phone, a store manager said she was unable to speak on the situation and directed all inquiries to corporate. A message left with the landlord of the shopping center, Riverland Plaza Associates, inquiring about the future of Kroger’s tenant space was not returned by press time.

Emerging from the store after shopping on a recent Saturday morning, Utica resident Suzanne Lafata nodded grimly when asked if she was aware of the impending closure.

“I’m sad, because it’s convenient for me,” said Lafata, who said she’ll miss the Riverland Kroger after frequenting it for 16 years. “But if they stay open, they’re going to have to remodel and stock the shelves better.”

Lafata said she plans to shift to the Schoenherr/Canal store once the Riverland site shuts down.

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