Last days of Krogering get personal for this Durham shopper

“I grew up with Kroger’s in Durham,” writes Howard Craft. “It’s where my family shopped. It’s where I got my first job as a grocery bagger.”
“I grew up with Kroger’s in Durham,” writes Howard Craft. “It’s where my family shopped. It’s where I got my first job as a grocery bagger.” hlynch@newsobserver.com

It’s been difficult walking through the aisles of my local Kroger’s these last few weeks.

Shelves once fully stocked with everything I needed are becoming more sparse by the day. The store is beginning to resemble a post-apocalyptic movie where two or three people search empty supermarket aisles for anything that may have escaped the attention of prior scavengers.

Stores close all the time but for me, as a Durhamite, the Kroger closings are personal.

I grew up with Kroger’s in Durham. It’s where my family shopped. It’s where I got my first job as a grocery bagger. It’s where I learned to judge good produce, and catch runaway carts before they dinged someone’s car door or rolled into the street.

I actually remember getting my first Kroger plus card.

I’m an everyday shopper, literally. What matters is proximity, and the closing Kroger store I’ve shopped at for the last 12 years is less than five minutes from my house. The cashiers and baggers know my name, know my son’s name; one bagger even invited my wife to church.

It’s baffling to me the difference in Kroger’s statement on the closings and what I see with my own eyes. I can’t speak for 13 of the 14 closing stores, but the store near my house has always been busy, weekdays and weekends. There’s always a line at the cashier and self-checkout stations.

The reason for this are Kroger’s prices, which some call low, but I call reasonable for the most part with the Plus card.

Yet, the company says lower prices are not translating into the kind of traffic needed across the board to increase profit margins.

The other argument is that the area is saturated with grocery stores, too much supply for the demand. But if this is the case why are the majority of these stores being replaced by Harris Teeters? If the market is truly that bad, why would a more expensive store be more competitive?

I get the whole idea that the shopping experience — having a Starbucks, a hot bar and specialty shops — may appeal to a certain type of shopper, but is that shopper in the majority?

I remember when the Harris Teeter across the street from Kroger’s on 54 closed; at the end of the day, that particular neighborhood, chose price over grocery store feature comforts.

The point is people are attached to their grocery stores like smokers are attached to certain brands of cigarettes. Marlboro smokers aren’t going to be caught smoking Newports and vice versa. Kroger shoppers for the most part aren’t jumping over to Harris Teeter. I’m not. Let’s go Teetering doesn’t even sound right.

Wal-Mart grocery shoppers are Wal-Mart shoppers, same with Target grocery shoppers.

I’ve never been keen on buying groceries in the same place I buy underwear and gardening tools, but that’s just me.

While I’ll continue Krogering until Aug. 14, when the Durham stores close, Kroger may have lost me as a customer when traveling and shopping outside of the Triangle and state.

Harris Teeter and Mid-Atlantic Kroger, which own the Kroger grocery store chain, are both owned by the Kroger family even though they exist as different business entities. Since they are under the same Kroger umbrella I do wonder, are the closings related to a decrease in shoppers, or is the idea of selling more expensive groceries through the lure of specialty shops, etc., the reasoning behind the closing of these stores?

Kroger has been accused of creating food deserts with the closing of their stores in some minority communities — communities that have provided Kroger with customers and workers for years.

Jesse Jackson recently said, “ If Kroger gonna leave us, we’re gonna leave Kroger.” He’s is calling for a boycott. Getting the boycott to gain steam and get good media coverage in an environment where everyday high levels of drama and chaos are spewing from the highest office in the land is going to be difficult task.

I’ll be purchasing my meat and produce from the State Farmer’s Market in Raleigh, Durham’s farmer market and Perkin’s Orchard which has some of the freshest produce in the area. I’ll have to plan meals further in advance and decide where to purchase miscellaneous non-food items. But this way I’ll buying local and as a result will probably end up eating less processed food, definitely a good thing.

When corporations leave or close their franchises the loyal customer can feel abandoned and have difficulty in the moment with the undisputed truth that change is inevitable. I’ve decided to let my nostalgia of the Kroger’s I once knew pass like clouds in the sky and focus that energy on the food choices I have moving forward which are fresh, local, and affordable, even without a Kroger Plus card.

Howard Craft is a playwright in Durham. Tell us what you think about this or any of our columns at letters@heradsun.com.

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