DECATUR — Shoppers at the Fairview Plaza Kroger on Thursday reacted with surprise, dismay and sadness to the news that the store would close at the end of August.
"This is a very sad day for the community," said Cynthia Farrington, a longtime West End resident who was at the store Thursday. "It really is."
The company cited a lack of profitability at the store, 1401 W. King St., and said it would work to place as many of the 95 employees as possible with other stores in Decatur. Those include locations in South Shores, Brettwood Plaza and Airport Plaza on the city's east side.
"We understand — and appreciate — the passion for all of our stores," company spokesman Eric Halvorson said in an email. "We hope shoppers on W. King Street will transfer their loyalty to the other nearby Kroger stores."
But some customers said they depend heavily on the convenience, friendly staff and wide selection available at the westside location. The Fairview Plaza store is also about half a mile from the Millikin University campus, making it the go-to grocery supplier for students without cars.
Farrington described the news as devastating, citing the effect on those students and others without transportation who would be left without easy access to a grocery store.
"Decatur is becoming a ghost town," she said as she snapped a photo of the "closing" sign on the Kroger doors.
Farrington said she has noticed how Decatur's retail landscape has changed over the years. Stores like Schnucks, Kmart, K's Merchandise and Venture have come and gone, she said, but the Fairview Kroger has always been a mainstay in her life. She said she considered the employees like family.
A frequent shopper there, Farrington said she never felt like it was struggling as its parent company indicated, because it always seemed busy.
Millikin University student Tom Emola just graduated with his bachelor's degree in May and is beginning his studies toward a master's in business administration next week. He, too, is surprised to hear the Fairview Kroger isn't profitable, because it's a busy place.
“Myself and a lot of my peers are always using that Kroger. It's the closest place,” Emola said. “It's kind of unfortunate that if I want to get groceries I have to go somewhere else.”
The next closest store is the Save-a-Lot on Grand Avenue, but walking there, and walking back with bags, would be a daunting prospect, he said.
Some on social media vowed to lobby the company to reverse its decision. One of those was Rochelle Boline, who said that she reached out to the Kroger Co. and filed a complaint in hopes of keeping the store open. Boline lives about a block away from Fairview Plaza, and said that losing the Kroger store would hurt westside residents, especially those with disabilities.
If she doesn't get a response from the Kroger corporate office, Boline said she'll keep calling. If that doesn't work, she'll consider starting a Facebook petition. Boline said she'd also be willing to organize a protest in front of the store and have people sign petitions that way.
While she wouldn't mind taking her business to other stores, like the Kroger in South Shores or Save-A-Lot at the Pines Shopping Center, Boline said she's truly passionate about keeping Kroger in the West End. She said she'll do anything to get corporate to understand how important the store is to her neighborhood.
"I wouldn't care if they moved (the store) out of Fairview Plaza and into a new building around here," Boline said. "I'd be OK with that. That store is all that we've got."
A westside Decatur resident for 65 years, Theresa Johnson remembers the area always having a local grocery store. The idea of not having a nearby store angered her. "This is all we knew," Johnson said.
She recalls her father's trips to the store and the personal care he received. "All the checkers knew him by name," she said.
Johnson learned about the store closing after she was done shopping for the day. She said she will have to find another location to purchase her food as well as her medications.
"Other pharmacies are too high (in price)," she said. "The ladies here, they work with you. I don't know if we will get that service again."
Jill Jones works providing transportation for residents of Belvedere Centre Plaza on Wood Street, which houses income-eligible seniors and people with disabilities.
She was shocked to find out about the closing while waiting for one of the residents to return from his shopping. She often drives residents to the Fairview Plaza store and now will likely take them to South Shores, she said.
Jones said she was upset for the Belvedere residents as well as others who count on the westside store, including those dropped off by city buses.
"This is more convenient for all of them," she said. "If they miss the bus, some of them can walk home from here. They can't walk it across the lake or Airport Road."
There could be a silver lining to the closure for Tanzania Jones, who works at the Dollar Tree next door. She is hoping the closing of the grocery store will add to her business.
"Our sales now are high," she said. "With Kroger closing down, we may be busier."
She said she hoped the store would add freezer and refrigerator sections to help keep the Kroger customers coming to the area. "We don't have them now," she said.
The Kroger closure is the second bit of bad news for the Fairview Plaza shopping center this week. Convey Health Solutions Inc. announced plans to close its call center in Fairview Plaza at the end of September, affecting 150 employees.
Farrington said the two losses back to make made her worried about the future of the city's economy. She's hopeful that it will make a turn for the better, but she's not sure how or when that would happen.
One thing is for certain, Farrington said: Changing the city's fortunes is a group effort, involving both city and state officials and residents.
"It can change if people sit down together," she said. "Instead of saying what they don't want to see here, we should say 'let's have this here, because this is going to benefit us.'"
Valerie Wells of the Herald & Review contributed to this story.