10. Job losses mount in Bluefield, controversy erupts over vacant Kroger store.
The news went from bad to worse for the city of Bluefield in 2012, and neighboring Bluefield, Va., also shared in the pain.
On the heels of the closure of Flowers Bakery, workers at the Cumberland Road Kroger, in Bluefield, and at Bluefield Beverage, in Bluefield, Va., were told in January that both facilities would close. In all, 164 jobs were lost between the grocery store and the bottling company. And word came in late 2012 that the long-feared consolidation of Bluefield’s Mail Processing and Distribution Center would begin in February — resulting in more jobs being lost for the region.
Grant’s Supermarket, a locally owned grocery chain, soon announced it was seeking a lease on the old Kroger building with a goal of opening a new grocery store at the site. However, Tom Lilly, co-owner of the Bluefield Plaza, later confirmed he was awarding the grocery store lease instead to K-VA-T Food Stores Inc., the corporate owners of Food City.
K-VA-T Food Stores Inc., President Steve Smith originally told the Daily Telegraph that the company was hoping to open a grocery store — either a Food City or Super Dollar Foods chain — at the Cumberland Road site, which is within close distance to the existing Food City store in Bluefield, Va. However, Smith reversed course in August telling the Daily Telegraph that K-VA-T Food Stores Inc., would not be developing a grocery store at the site. Smith said putting in a new store would be more cost effective than renovating the old Kroger building.
Bluefield officials disagreed; arguing that city inspectors checked out the old Kroger building, and determined it was not in a bad condition. They also argued that keeping the old Kroger building empty was adversely impacting existing businesses on Cumberland Road, and economic development and growth across the city.
Greg Shrewsbury, the city’s economic development director, said the city is losing more than $1 million in revenue annually because of the current vacancy. The board passed a resolution in December asking Smith and Lilly to attend their Jan. 8 meeting to explain why the old Kroger building is still empty.
— Bill Archer contribued to this story.