Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 12, 2012

Bluefield City Board approves Food City resolution

GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Bluefield’s elected officials urged residents Tuesday to consider spending their grocery money elsewhere if a grocery store chain allows the vacated Kroger store at a Cumberland Road shopping center to remain vacant.

Members of the Bluefield City Board unanimously passed  the resolution asking the owners of Food City and the owner of the Bluefield Plaza to attend a meeting next month to explain why the old Kroger store on Cumberland Road is still vacant. Kroger vacated the premises earlier this year, and the lease was later signed by K-VA-T, the company that owns the Food City chain.

The resolution asks Steve Smith, CEO of K-VA-T, and Tom Lilly, co-owner of the Bluefield Plaza, to attend the Jan. 8, 2013 board meeting. The board’s members said the vacancy at Bluefield Plaza created when Kroger left the building has been harming Cumberland Road businesses, residents and the city as a whole.

Mayor Linda Whalen asked Bluefield’s residents to help K-VA-T realize that the issue is important and will not go away. Many of Bluefield’s citizens shop at the Food City in Bluefield, Va.

“Our citizens have made the Food City a profitable business, but Food City is now doing harm to the citizens of Bluefield, W.Va.,” Whalen said.

City inspectors checked the former Kroger site and learned that it is not in bad condition, she stated.

“I believe Food City is talking about locating another grocery store in the area because they do not want another grocery store to come into Bluefield. This is a constant threat,” Whalen said. “If you put that information out there, it makes another grocery store very leery about coming in when they know any moment Food City could decide to open up the Kroger property.”

Whalen urged the city’s residents to express their feelings about the situation by shopping elsewhere for groceries.

“Really and truly, the only thing that is going to speak to Food City is where we spend our dollars,” Whalen said. And the citizens need to take a serious look at where they spend their grocery dollars. They (Food City) think we will be upset over this for a month or two, and then go back to Food City because that is one of the most convenient places to go. It’s a nice grocery store. That’s what they are counting on us doing. As citizens of Bluefield, this is a time to stick up for your city and say, ‘You’re not going to do this to us.’ It’s your dollar that’s going to speak, and so you need to be very wise about where you’re going to spend that grocery dollar. That’s the only thing they’re going to listen to.”

Before the board voted about the resolution, Greg Shrewsbury, the city’s economic development director, was asked to describe the impact if the old Kroger store remains vacant.

“The city has continued to try and work with all sides in a non-public setting to resolve the issue,” Shrewsbury said. “We do know we have a local grocer that is willing to take the lease of that building and by blocking that particular business or not allowing that store in that facility, it cost Bluefield, W.Va. jobs.”

The city loses the economic impact of jobs and local taxes, he added.

“For that size facility, approximately 15 to 20 employees with full-time benefits would be employed. There would be 25 to 30 part-time employees,” Shrewsbury told the board.

He estimated that the store would have an annual payroll of more than $900,000. When fees and B&O taxes are added to the equation, the city is losing more than $1 million annually because of the current vacancy.

The former Kroger location is strategic because it is the largest space in town for a full-service grocery store, Shrewsbury said. The city does not have another suitable location for a store that size.

“This is a significant issue. We’ve reached out to Food City. I have personally reached out to one of the co-owners of the facility. I think it would be a good step to try and mediate and resolve this issue,” he said.

Steve Smith did not reply to a message left Tuesday at K-VA-T.

Board member Mary Frances Brammer urged residents to attend the board meeting on Jan. 8, 2013 and “let them know we are supporting our city.”

Another board member, Pete Sternloff, said K-VA-T needed to give up the lease and allow a local grocery chain, Grant’s Supermarket, move into the store.

Whalen said after Tuesday’s meeting that if representatives of K-VA-T or the shopping center do not accept the invitation to speak about the issue, “we’ll cross the bridge on Jan. 8.”