Taking a look at Kroger

Published 9:05 pm Thursday, January 31, 2013

Judging by comments on our website after the city announced Suffolk is getting a Kroger Marketplace — even though City Council has to approve a rezoning first — not everyone is happy it’s going in at Harbour View.

People are upset that North Suffolk is getting the investment, while historic Suffolk is left with the decaying shell of an old Lowe’s, an open wound where Obici hospital once stood and a Food Lion and Walmart that at least one online commenter described in disparaging terms.

Do they have a case? Of course, it would be nice to live by a gleaming new Kroger store with 123,000 square feet of groceries and other goodies like furniture, home décor, appliances, storage needs, kitchenware, office supplies and toys.

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And it is true — or debatable, but in my opinion true — that certain grocery stores like Kroger and Harris Teeter and — from left field, so to speak — Whole Foods are a cut above the rest.

To be sure, North Suffolk residents already benefit from the above-average grocery shopping experience offered by Harris Teeter.

And no one likes driving past the old Lowe’s on Godwin Boulevard or the overgrown-with-weeds cataract on North Main Street where babies were once delivered at Obici.

But the simple fact remains that in a local business environment governed by market forces, the Harbour View area represents a better opportunity for any new store such as the Kroger.

Prior to deciding to locate there, the company — or a well-paid consultant — would have examined the area’s demographic makeup with a fine-toothed comb.

Kroger officials would have concluded that with a housing market picking up and many new residences on the drawing board, good interstate access for commuters from Suffolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake and beyond, and more well-heeled customers in the general vicinity, a North Suffolk location would make a much better bet.

Any city incentive for a new retailer such as Kroger to move into historic Suffolk would quickly come up against the demographic realities of that area. It’s a problem with no easy fix.

Announcements like the Kroger one perpetuate perceptions of Suffolk officials’ two-city mentality, but forces beyond them are more responsible.

At least Harbour View is a lot closer to old Suffolk than Virginia Beach, where the next-closest Kroger Marketplace is being built, and at least the company will be paying local taxes that will ultimately benefit everyone in Suffolk.