Grocer proposing huge expansion.
Cincinnati based Kroger is planning to significantly expand their presence at Embry Village shopping center on Chamblee-Tucker Road. The store, currently just under 57,000 square feet, opened around 2001 (in place of a Winn-Dixie), having relocated from a a roughly 46,000 square foot space in nearby North Hills shopping center. (A significant portion of the former Kroger is today leased to Big Lots, while a smaller portion, once home to the Velvet Room nightclub, today sits vacant.)
|The former Kroger at North Hills shopping center|
Kroger currently has about 200 stores in what it calls the "Atlanta" region.
|The current Kroger at Embry Village|
Kroger's plan is to roughly double the size of their store to 113,531 square feet, and to add fuel pumps (possibly as many as 18) to the property as well, according to a site plan recently presented to the community. The project represents a reportedly $20 million investment. This expansion would be accomplished by consuming a large part of the existing center including, but not limited to, spaces currently occupied by a Post Office, Fantastic Sams, China Star (Chinese takeout), The UPS Store, Atlanta Health & Rehab (a chiropractic office), Rite Aid division offices (not the store itself), the former Joe Willingham State Farm, a barbershop, the former Motel 6, and, sadly, S&S Cafeterias.
|The former Motel 6 at Embry Village|
Kroger was proud to take credit for the motel's closure (which occurred this past December), but the neighborhood's pleasure was short lived when it was revealed that the S&S Cafeteria would fall victim to the expansion.
S&S Cafeteria, a center mainstay since 1973, long before Kroger, is especially popular with older residents as well many local church groups. The restaurant is situated beside the former motel and behind Kroger.
S&S Cafeterias started in 1936 with their first location in Columbus, Georgia. Today S&S Cafeterias operates five locations in Georgia (Chamblee-Tucker Road, Campbellton Road, one in Augusta and two in Macon), two locations in South Carolina (Charleston and Greenville), and one in Tennessee (Knoxville).
I spoke to J.A. Smith IV, President of Cafeteria Operations for Macon based Smith and Sons Foods, the Cafeteria's parent company. Mr. Smith lamented that "we don't have the money to take on Kroger." Smith was complimentary of the Embry Hills community that has supported his family's restaurant since 1973. "We have lots of loyal customers and we love every one of them." Although indications previously led me to believe the S&S would be forced from their space in September, Smith indicated he believed the timeline would be closer to the end of the year and possibly not until early 2017, given the holiday season. "We are gonna ride it to the last minute...'till they have a bulldozer at our door," said Smith of the closure timeline.
|The former Camille's space that was reportedly offered to the S&S|
The S&S has reportedly been offered at least two other spaces within Embry Village (the former Camille's Sidewalk Cafe and the former Azalea Bridal) but each is less than half the size of the current 9,325 square foot restaurant. The restaurant's current lease reportedly runs through June. It was mentioned at last week's neighborhood meeting that Mr. Smith had considered a smaller version S&S in the past, and that perhaps the Embry Village location could become that "concept" location. Smith indicated he had "no comment" as to what plans he may have for if/when his restaurant is forced to vacate their space.
If the cafeteria does close, it would be especially painful for those Atlantans who still favor cafeteria dining given the recent closure of Piccadilly's North Druid Hills location.
Kroger plans to demolish and rebuild the store, so that it can be rebuilt into what one Kroger employee called a "Marketplace" store. Kroger Marketplace is a large-scale Kroger introduced in Columbus, Ohio in 2004 and in Carrollton, Georgia in 2013.
In Carrollton, the company renovated and expanded in phases a 70s "Greenhouse" Kroger like the former store at North Hills. The old store was just under 50,000 square feet and was enlarged to create the 113,351 square foot Marketplace store, a 64,000 square foot expansion. (The current size of the Carrollton store is nearly identical to the proposed size of the Embry Village location.)
|A Kroger Marketplace store|
According to a source at Kroger, any store in excess of 113,000 square feet is designated a "Marketplace" store. Marketplace stores offer a greater variety of specialty products, sections of toys, appliances, home furnishings, and bed and bath items and often contain a Fred Meyer Jewelers store, Starbucks, drive-thru pharmacy and an in-store bank. A Kroger can reportedly be a Marketplace store even if it does not have all of the above listed amenities and product offerings.
(How great could those ads be: "No, he didn't go to Jared. HE went to Kroger!")
Kroger has been on a growth spurt lately, having expanded both their Brookhaven (now 81,718 square feet) and Decatur (now 109,773 square feet) stores, with plans to expand their Sandy Springs store in Fountain Oaks shopping center soon.
In addition to the stores above, Kroger recently opened new Marketplace stores in Athens (123,000 square feet), Gainesville (more than 123,000 square feet), and Savannah (about 125,000 square feet.)
In June, Kroger plans to open a new 109,000 square foot Kroger "Bountiful" in Glenwood Place. The store will be very similar to the renovated/expanded store in Decatur, but will be just shy of "Marketplace" qualifications. Later in the year, Kroger will open a new 82,000 +/- square foot store in Lindbergh Place, the new center being built near Lindbergh Drive and Piedmont Road. Also later in the year, a 120,000 square foot Kroger Marketplace store will open in Cartersville and replace an aging and much smaller Greenhouse store nearby.
Other Marketplace stores are in the works in Snellville, Dawsonville and Loganville.
I contacted Glynn Jenkins, Director, Communications & Public Relations for Kroger, regarding the planned expansion at Embry Village. Jenkins offered no confirmation saying only "I have no information confirming the expansion of the Kroger Embry location to a Marketplace store." Jenkins added that it is the offerings of a Kroger that determine its classification as a Marketplace store, not its square footage. When I reasoned that a store's size would allow for its expanded offerings, and likely Marketplace qualification, Mr. Jenkins refused further comment.
A neighborhood meeting was held this past Tuesday to present and discuss the plans (mandatory per DeKalb County Zoning Code prior to filing for re-zoning or Special Land Use Permit) and was hosted by Kroger, its attorneys, and Kimco, the shopping center's owner.
Kroger must get a SLUP for the construction of the Fuel Center planned to be built near the current SunTrust Bank. Zoning approval of the fuel center is reportedly a pre-condition to building the new Kroger.
|The Post Office and other businesses to the left of Kroger that would be displaced|
Zoning must be changed from O&I (vacant offices near S&S and old motel) to C-1. Kimco reported having offered the Post Office, barbershop, Rite Aid Regional Office, The UPS Store and China Star alternate space "on the hill" (the property in front of Kroger, near Goodyear and behind Galaxy Diner (this space deliberately has not been leased for that reason).
The new store would have 568 parking spaces, which would be both wider and deeper than the current spaces, news that seemed to please many of those in attendance.
If the plan progresses as intended, existing tenants affected by the new store would start to move in May or June, with construction expected to begin in September. There will reportedly be a three month period during which neither Kroger store is open. The idea of a mobile trailer for pharmacy patrons was mentioned as an alternative during this time. A separate Kroger source indicated to me that current corporate project timelines indicate the new store is "on the calendar" for a third quarter 2017 opening.
The Kroger expansion would also come with overall improvements to both the exterior and landscaping of the center.
|The former liquor store property has reportedly seen interest from at least two food service operations|
Although not publicly announced, Waffle House and Dunkin' Donuts are both said to be interested in the property currently occupied by the old liquor store near Planet Fitness. I've thus far been unable to confirm that a lease has been signed, likely due, at least in part, to other tenants wanting to know the new Kroger is happening before signing their own new lease.
It is speculated that Mr. Cue's, a popular pool hall, RiteAid and Planet Fitness, will all remain in the center. (This could change, given rent is likely to increase across the board following the improvements to the center.)
What are your thoughts on Kroger's plans at Embry Village? Where would you like to see S&S Cafeterias reopen? Have you been to a Kroger Marketplace store, and if so, what were your thoughts?
Please share your comments, suggestions and or gripes below.