2006-11-25

Supermarket turnover

This is only recent history, but I was thinking about the number of grocery stores that have closed down in Athens in just the last few years, usually replaced somewhere else but still causing suburban eyesores and inconvenienced customers.

Winn-Dixie stores at the Willowood, Alps Road, and Homewood shopping centers have all closed down. The Alps Road site was replaced by a Kroger with a new building on the same spot, but this Kroger was essentially a move by the West Broad Street Kroger which closed and left space now occupied by the Omni Club gym. The Willowood area is still served by the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Lexington Road (which may have eroded Winn-Dixie's sales).

Bell's grocery near Willowood closed down and its building was demolished to make way for Lowe's Home Improvement.

Harris Teeter at Beechwood (across from the Alps Road Winn-Dixie) also closed, and although the immediate area is now just served by one store rather than three, the west side of town is now served by a new Kroger and Wal-Mart Supercenter in Oconee County on Epps Bridge Parkway.

The Bi-Lo stores were replaced by an outfit called Southern Family Markets, but they soon closed the South Milledge Avenue location. That closure leaves a gaping hole in grocery market coverage. The Homewood closure also seems to an inconvenience, according to a writer of a letter to Flagpole. I suppose this is all a result of tight margins and tight competition. Businesses must make good decisions to stay in business, but neighborhoods suffer the externalities of losing a convenient store and having a new abandoned eyesore nearby.

Our planning process should encourage the rebuilding of current shopping centers and discourage landlowners like Wal-Mart from allowing them to stay empty. Of course, Athens-Clarke is a small county, and if we say no then the grocers, retailers, and developers go to Oconee County where they say yes. But how long will Oconee County encourage this kind of growth?

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