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Frustrated with the news that the Kroger in Galax will close in late March, locals took to social media websites to voice their concerns, and are attempting to cause enough of a stir to convince executives to think twice about their decision.
Representatives from Kroger made the announcement on Jan. 17, after several attempts to gain more profits from the store failed.
Later that same day, a page called “Save Kroger in Galax, Virginia” cropped up on Facebook, and went viral over the weekend as devastated customers hit their “like” and “share” buttons.
On Wednesday, the group had more than 3,000 likes.
The business has been located in Twin County Plaza on East Stuart Drive for the past 47 years, but its history in Galax dates back to the 1930s.
Loyal customers asked about their preference for Kroger generally gush about the friendly customer service, affordable pricing and convenience in location.
Kroger’s shoppers have expressed a range of emotions since the announcement was made, from anger and frustration to sadness and nostalgia.
Marlene Adams, a Galax resident and the former owner of a catering business, said that she has shopped at the store since she got married 41 years ago.
“My children grew up working there. One was 16 and the other was 14 when they were hired there, and they worked their way through college,” she said.
To run her business, she stopped by Kroger several times a week to pick up ingredients. “If I wasn’t in there every couple of days, they would call to ask where I was.”
Denise Brown of Galax also has a family history with the store. Her mother, the late Jacque Rowe, worked there for 19 years, and her sister and her oldest son were employed there, as well. “They were getting ready to hire my youngest son, but now that they are closing, they are not going forth with that,” she said.
The closing of the store will put more than 50 employees out of work, including Brown’s family members. Although full-time employees will be given opportunities by seniority to transfer to other Kroger stores, the nearest one is in Radford, which is more than an hour away from the city.
Since the announcement, Adams said that she has seen more traffic through the store than ever. “I went on Sunday night for groceries, and it was so busy,” she said.
While she was in the store, she spoke with an elderly woman who was stocking up on their 10 for $10 deal on frozen vegetables. “She told me, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do. I can’t find these deals anywhere else.’”
Aside from loyal shoppers driving to Kroger to fill up on groceries, members of the community have voiced concerns for residents of the Glendale and Northway apartment complexes that are in walking distance of Kroger. Many of them take advantage of this convenience, because they don’t have cars.
Several others have questioned what will happen to the stores surrounding Kroger, such as Rose’s, after it is gone. Galax Plaza also includes the Willing Partners thrift shop/food bank and Plaza Barber Shop.
As of right now, the store is scheduled to close on March 21. The lease on the building will run out in May, leaving room for another business to take its place. Or, in the worst case scenario, the shopping center will have one large, empty building dead in the center.
Melissa Turman, a local business owner and loyal customer, started the “Save Kroger in Galax, Virginia” page on Facebook after she heard the news.
“I live outside of Galax, and [last year] I started a small restaurant in Meadows of Dan called the Woodberry. When I was trying to determine where to purchase groceries for the restaurant, I tried Kroger,” she said.
After experiencing top-notch customer service and finding that their prices fit well within her budget, she decided that she had found her supplier.
She noted that she shopped at the business at least four times per week, and that her grocery spending for the past year totaled $20,000.
“The day I found out they were closing, I checked Facebook and just said, you’ve got to be kidding me. I looked at other posts, and everybody just had a sense that there was no hope.”
Not content to just accept the announcement and move on, she did the only thing she could think of to do: get the community together and fight back. “I figured if I got around 500 people, I would be doing good.”
However, she had used Facebook before, and was aware of how fast word could travel just by creating one post. During last year’s government shutdown, when the government-owned and contracted facilities of the Blue Ridge Parkway were closed — including Mabry Mill near her restaurant — she used social media to advertise that her business was still open.
And locals did more than just like and share. Over the past several days, the page has become a main hub for a number of petition strategies.
Later that weekend, Turman learned of an online petition on change.org simply titled “Kroger: Stay Open.”
She shared the link on her Facebook page, and by Jan. 22 it had gained nearly 650 signatures from locals hoping to change the company’s mind.
The petition was started by Martina Hill of Galax, who wrote: “The Kroger store has been part of the Galax community since it was built.... if we lose this store, no longer will we have a piece of our history.”
The comments in the petition contained similar sentiments.
Brett Gravley of Fries wrote, “This company has been in Galax for over 60 years. I remember my great grandparents going to Kroger.”
He commended the customer service that the store offers, and said he had witnessed store associates walking through the store with customers who were unable to physically do their own shopping. “The customers and employees are a big family.”
Kathy Wright of Independence agreed. “Kroger has a great group of employees [who] deserve to still have jobs in our depressed area. If the powers that be would update this old store, business would improve.”
Kim Moxley of Galax mentioned the convenience of the store’s location: “Galax has a few low-income housing on either side of Kroger. As some of these people can not drive, it gives them a chance to purchase groceries since they can walk there.”
Although the shop was never expanded to include the same amenities of newer Kroger stores — such as a deli, bakery or pharmacy — Mack Bedsaul of Galax praised the business for holding its own for years in the face of bigger stores like Food City and Walmart. “It has weathered a lot of storms. It’s seen Lowe’s Foods and Ingles come and go. The employees are dedicated, long-staying people who deserve their jobs,” he said.
Several signatures came from outside the Twin Counties, stretching into localities in North Carolina. Sherry Maines of Ennice, N.C., wrote that she travels across the state line just to shop at the Galax Kroger. “I have never found products that I’ve enjoyed more,” she said.
Others simply stated their sadness over seeing a part of their past come to an end. “I have never shopped anywhere but Kroger for 60 years. I started working for them in 1960, and retired in 1995, after 35 years. I still shop there every week. I feel like a close friend has died,” said Charlie Akers of Galax.
Kroger Hears Concerns
Frustrated at the company for its decision to close the store, several locals made their opinions known on Kroger’s official Facebook page.
Supporters have been flooding the company’s newsfeed over the past several days, making sure to keep the topic of Galax hot enough to raise corporate red flags.
Comments from Kroger executives have been mixed. Some have claimed there is still hope for the store, while others are saying that the decision is final.
“The Kroger in Galax is at the heart of the community. It provides more than just canned goods and perishables,” Judy Nunn Alley of Florida wrote on Kroger’s page.
“It provides the opportunity for traditions to continue, friends to meet and share family news. It is a hub of activity and community spirit. I never heard my mother say ‘I have to run by the grocery store,’ it was always ‘I have to run by Kroger!’”
Emily Rees Nunn later wrote, “Please work with the city of Galax to keep your store in town. They’ve supported you with their business all these years, in good times and bad. Now you should do the same.”
She added that more than a third of the city’s population has liked the “Save Kroger” page.
Many of the inquiries received a generic statement from Kroger, thanking the visitors for their comments, and that they “apologize for any inconvenience this closure may cause.”
(Some locals were appalled to see the city spelled “Galaxa” in the responses.)
“Unfortunately, I think everyone is complaining to a brick wall. Every response from Kroger is just a copy and paste form response… I doubt they are even reading these comments,” said Amanda Jones Smith.
On Monday, Turman posted a new update to her page: “I just called Kroger customer service… the lady I spoke with was extremely nice and said they have received many calls. The large volume of calls she has gotten already has impressed her that our community cares this much to keep our Kroger store.”
Other members of the group have received similar feedback from customer service representatives, who say they have heard many comments and are passing them on for consideration.
“I asked them to honestly tell me if it could make a difference if a lot of people called, e-mailed, etc. about the store closing and voiced their opinion that it should remain open. [The representative] said it definitely would, [and] there have been cases where stores were kept open because of an overwhelming number of people who called and complained about the effect closing the store would have on their community,” said Rhonda Bond Simone.
However, Kroger Mid-Atlantic spokesperson Allison McGee gave The Gazette a different answer during a phone interview on Wednesday, saying that nothing has changed.
“We are very gracious of the community to support and show that they love Kroger that much. Unfortunately, we wish support financially could have come a little bit earlier,” she said.
She repeated that Kroger has made its final decision and would still close the store as planned.
City Joins the Fight
On Tuesday, The Gazette spoke with City Manager Keith Barker, who heard the news about Kroger from representatives during a meeting on Friday when it was first announced.
“At that time, I asked [the Kroger reps] if there was anything we could do that would help them or assist in making them change their mind. They indicated that there wasn’t,” he said.
After hearing the outpouring of community support for the store, and learning that Turman was planning to pass around a hard copy petition to keep the store open, the city called McGee to extend his offer again.
“I explained to her how the Facebook page was started and that citizens from Galax are wanting to sign a petition to send to the president of Kroger,” city executive secretary Dana Woodel said.
Barker noted that, while the attention Kroger is receiving is a good thing, the store would need continued support in the chance that it did remain open.
“We don’t quite know what we are going to miss until it’s not there. The best thing you can do is buy local to support your local stores and merchants. It’s what this all comes down to,” he said.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
Those interested in learning more about what they can do to help this effort can:
• LIKE the “Save Kroger in Galax, Virginia” page on Facebook
• SIGN the petition at Change.org
• CALL the Kroger corporate office number is 1-800-576-4377. Press 5 for the customer service department, then 5 again to speak to a representative.
• CALL the Kroger Mid-Atlantic Division at 1-540-563-3500.