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It might be difficult to push a shopping cart through Galax’s Kroger parking lot next Tuesday without accidentally bumping into one of the store’s supporters.
On Feb. 18, beginning at 12:30 p.m., the blacktop could be filled with community members who are sad, angry, frustrated and determined to keep the business open.
“Come join us — let’s gather together to show Kroger that we want this store in Galax,” reads a simple, bold flyer that has been circulating around Facebook since the beginning of February.
Armed with signed petitions, groups are reaching out to friends and neighbors to ensure that the turnout is as large as possible.
After weeks of hearing nothing but generic responses from the company, they are hoping that this bold move will garner more attention.
Kroger officials announced on Jan. 17 that the store will close March 21, due to several failed attempts to gain more profits.
The business has been located in the Twin County Plaza on East Stuart Drive for the past 47 years, but the store’s history dates back to the 1930s.
The store’s closure will put 18 full-time and 35 part-time employees out of a job. And although they have been offered transfers to nearby stores by seniority, the nearest one is more than an hour away.
The store is scheduled to close for good on March 21, but the building will still be leased through the end of May. At this time, there is no word if other businesses are interested in filling the empty space.
Ever since the announcement was made, local supporters have been fighting the decision as hard as they can. Individuals turned to social networks with their complaints and their ideas since the announcement, and a Facebook page called “Save Kroger in Galax, Virginia” soon cropped up as a result. On Monday, the number of page “likes” had almost reached 3,500.
Determined to get corporate attention, the community has bombarded Kroger’s Mid-Atlantic Division with phone calls, letters and e-mails, begging them to keep the store open.
But, so far, Kroger officials haven’t budged.
“I just came from there today... and when I’m there, I just want to stand in the middle of the store and yell,” Melissa Turman — a local business owner who started the Facebook page — told The Gazette on Monday afternoon. “It’s empty. We still have six more weeks and there is nothing for us to buy.”
An avid Kroger customer and the owner of a restaurant that depends on the store’s merchandise, she is an example of a community member that will be severely impacted by this change. “I’ve told Kroger that, if they do this, they will not get my business at their other stores,” she said. Over the past year, she has bought around $30,000 worth of food from the store to prepare at her restaurant.
Kroger employees have been asked not to talk to the media about the closure, but customers aren’t holding back. “I’ve talked to customers in the store, and some of them are sad, others are angry and can’t believe they are doing this,” said Turman.
In the interest of getting other officials involved, she has also busied herself by reaching out to city officials and Congressman Morgan Griffith.
Both Griffith and City Manager Keith Barker have reached out to Kroger on behalf of the city, but did not receive a positive response.
Comments to Kroger’s Facebook page, and repeated calls to the corporate offices continue to yield the same generic response: “We apologize for any inconvenience that this closure may cause.”
So, Turman and others hope that a Kroger representative will meet them in front of the store on Feb. 18 to give them some answers. “I don’t want to call it a protest,” she said, because she doesn’t want things to get too rowdy.
There are no plans for picketing or yelling, but hands will be full of petition signatures, which totaled 1,052 on Monday, thanks to help from several local businesses, including Willing Partners, Family Hair Care, Plaza Barbershop and W&W Pets.
As of Monday, Turman had not been able to secure a representative from Kroger to meet the crowd and hear their concerns.
That evening, Galax City Council members mentioned the supporters’ planned gathering and considered a letter of resolution in recognition and support of the “Save Kroger” effort.
One of the points of the letter, as read by Mayor C.M. Mitchell, described the Twin County area as a “food desert” section of Virginia, meaning that affordable and healthy food is difficult to find, for reasons including lack of grocery store options, lack of transportation and an abundance of low-income families.
The letter also nodded to the overwhelming volume of support that has been shown by the citizens since the announcement was made.
In closing, the letter requested that the city of Galax and the council recognize the importance of the store, and ask Kroger to reconsider their decision.
Council member Sharon Plichta made a motion to adopt the resolution, which was then seconded by Margo Crouse and approved unanimously.