Publix Super Markets’ announcement that it will shutter its Decatur store at South Hairston Road and Covington Highway next spring comes as Stone Mountain shoppers are still reeling from the unexpected closure of the Kroger at North Hairston and Memorial Drive last month.
The recent moves are raising alarms among customers, community leaders and county officials who are now hoping to prevent an exodus of name-brand shopping chains from the area.
Publix spokeswoman Brenda Reid confirmed that the store, which co-anchors the Hairston Crossing shopping center at 2075 South Hairston Road with a Walgreens, will close on March 3, 2018, after 15 years at that location.
The Florida-based chain has not officially notified local customers, but Reid said it is planning to do so at least a month prior to closing.
Reid said the store has been underperforming for some time now.
“We appreciate the support we have gotten from customers and it’s with a very heavy heart that we close any store,” she said. “Unfortunately, we just weren’t able to make that store profitable.”
Reid said store employees have already been notified of the impending closure. Once the store goes dark, she said customers will be encouraged to patronize Publix’s other south DeKalb markets at Flakes Mill Road, Panola Road and Glenwood Road – the closest of which is about three miles away.
DeKalb Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson, who represents District 5 where the Publix is located, convened a high-level meeting Wednesday to discuss the issue. The meeting at the county’s government office in downtown Decatur reportedly included Reid, DeKalb Chief Operating Officer Zach Williams and other county officials.
Johnson said last-ditch pleas to convince Publix representatives to keep the store open were unsuccessful.
“They told us that the store had not been profitable for 10 years and they struggled to keep it open and continued to operate in the red,” Johnson said. “It’s very unfortunate, but they’re a for-profit corporation and I understand their decision.”
Hairston Crossing shopping center also has a Marco’s Pizza, Chase bank. and Lucky Panda restaurant.
Kimp Walton, who lives around the corner from the Publix, says he shops there about four times a week and expects the closure will be a major setback for his family, which includes five children, and his neighborhood.
“I can’t imagine the ripple effect if [Publix] leaves.” Walton said. “If we lose this store, it will impact a lot of us who shop there because they have better quality groceries than the other stores in our area.”
Janice Carr, 66, a retired microbiologist, has lived in Walton’s subdivision for 50 years. She is skeptical that economics is solely behind the scheduled closing.
Carr first heard about the impending closure from an employee of the SunTrust bank branch inside Publix.
“I don’t know if you call it racism but they just don’t treat people who live in this area the same as other places,” said Carr, who describes herself as an “old white woman with white hair.”
“They just treat us crummy. I also think we as a community haven’t demanded better. These stores close and we don’t get anything of quality to replace them.”
The news about Publix has whipsawed through nearby subdivisions and emerged as a trending topic on Nextdoor, the hyper-local website that serves as a virtual bulletin board.
Just a few miles north in Stone Mountain, Publix’s impending closure has sparked a foreboding sense of déjà vu.
On Oct. 13, the Kroger store in the Hairston Village Shopping Center at 965 North Hairston Road, near Memorial Drive, closed after 18 years in business, leaving a so-called “grocery gap” in the community.
In a press release explaining the decision, Kroger said the store experienced declining sales and negative profit over an extended period of time.
“Its closure was necessary to make Kroger more competitive in the market,” the statement said. The company also expressed its commitment to continue serving customers and directed them to other stores elsewhere in Stone Mountain, Tucker and Decatur.
Kenneth Saunders, chairman-elect of the South DeKalb Improvement Association, said the nonprofit organization is planning to discuss the grocery store closures at its next meeting.
“The closing of the Kroger, and the proposed closing of Publix, could really harm our community,” Saunders said. “This really doesn’t make sense especially when Publix claims they’re all about community in their advertising but they’re leaving a community that has supported them for so long.”
Walton, the longtime Publix customer, said if the store abandons his community as planned, he will vote with his feet – and his wallet – when it comes to grocery shopping in the future.
“I think it shows lack of respect,” he said. “If that happens, I will not shop at the Publix stores at Panola or Flakes Mill. If they’re not willing to invest in and support my community, or at least have a conversation with us before they leave, why should I support them?”
Commissioner Johnson said she will be working proactively with county officials to identify strategies to attract and retain high-quality grocery stores in DeKalb for her constituents including Reid, the Publix spokeswoman.