On January 17, Kroger announced that it will close its legacy store in Galax, Va., on March 21. But workers and customers aren’t taking the news lying down. They are mobilizing through social media and applying pressure in many different ways to force the company to change its plans and keep the store open.
Kroger has been a community staple of Galax, located seven miles from the North Carolina border, since 1931, residing in its current location in the Twin County Plaza on East Stewart Dr. since 1967.
Upset at the prospect of not being able to buy affordable, healthy food locally and receive the high quality customer service they’ve been accustomed to for decades, customers joined with Local 400 members in mobilizing the community to contact company executives and sign petitions to keep their Kroger open. Literally within hours of the announcement, Melissa Turman, a customer and restaurant owner who lives two miles from the store, launched a Facebook Page “Save Kroger in Galax, Virginia.” In less than a week, it garnered 3,200 “likes.”
“With Kroger in Galax, everyone feels like family,” said Turman. “This family has given Kroger 80 years of loyalty and this is how they pay us back? For them to say the store hasn’t been profitable in many years—we’re not buying it.”
Local 400 member and shop steward Kristy Key echoed these sentiments. “If Kroger decides to close,” she said, “it would be like our community center closing. It warms my heart that the customers gathered together on their own—no one told them to do it—to start the Facebook page and the online and hard copy petitions as well as making countless phone calls and emails to Kroger’s headquarters to keep the doors open. That should tell Kroger something.”
“When I went to the grocery store the day they made the announcement, there was sadness in the store and it bothered me,” Turman explained. “Having previous experience and success with getting the word out on Facebook, I started the page that very day to bring back that sense of hope to our community.”
Customers are reaching out to local businesses, community organizations, religious groups, and area political leaders to have them call and email Kroger executives, sign petitions, and post their thoughts on the company’s Facebook page.
Thelma Holder is the owner of Thelma’s Place, a beauty salon that has been in business for 40+ years in the same shopping center as Kroger.
“If Kroger decides to shut its doors in March I’m really not sure what’s going to happen to my business,” said Holder.
In recent days, customers and employees have found that the lease for Kroger’s current location is up in May, leaving many saying, “this seems like the easy way out for Kroger.”
Kroger Mid-Atlantic spokesperson Allison McGee told the Galax Gazette, “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.” However, just last week, employees were told that Galax sales increased by 29 percent over the sales from the same week last year.
“Kroger’s math just doesn’t add up,” said Key. “Our store is profitable and making more money than before, which begs the question about the company’s real reason for taking this action.”
In fact, many Kroger employees find it hard to believe that finances have anything to do with their store’s closing, since the corporation just bought the Harris Teeter grocery chain for $2.4 billion in cash. Moreover, just a few months ago, they spent time installing new shelving and refrigerators at the check stands.
“Sure, Kroger wants to be able to compete with Walmart and other big box retailers, that’s evident in their new ‘marketplace’ store model in the Virginia Beach area,” said Key. “But when executives are making the decision to close our doors when they’ve never really stepped foot in this location just doesn’t make sense.”
If the store closes in March, many of the 55 employees will be relocated to different Kroger stores. Unfortunately, the closest store is over an hour away in Radford, Va. Others may be relocated or “bumped” to a location as far away as Roanoke, Va. This would force them to choose between having to uproot their families, look for another job locally, or be forced into early retirement.
“It’s my understanding that we won’t be getting notified of bumps until two weeks before the store closes,” said Key. “It doesn’t give me a lot of time to figure out what I want to do with me and my family, who have planted deep roots here in Galax. I hope I’m bumped to a nearby location or at least within an hour or so of home. I would like to stay Kroger because if I don’t, I’m risking and giving up my 17 years and everything I’ve worked long and hard for.”
David Williams has been with Kroger since 1967 and works as a receiver. If the store closes he’s not sure if he’ll retire early or take his bump and relocate to another store.
“I’m most concerned about my pension, which is based on retiring at age 65,” said Williams. “When the store plans to close in March, I’ll be a few months shy of my birthday, so if I decided to retire early that would be a 12 percent penalty to my pension.”
From left to right are: Matthew Jones – Meat Clerk, 3 years of service Bryan Gravley – Customer Service Mgr., 24 yrs Randall Lowe – Meat Mgr., I am not sure of yrs. I want to say 20 David Williams – Backdoor Receiver, 47 yrs. Kristy Key – Assistant Customer Service Mgr. 16 yrs
How to get involved:
LIKE the “Save Kroger in Galax, Virginia” Facebook page
CALL the Kroger Corporate office number at 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