Natural foods store to shutter later this month
Whole Foods Market confirmed earlier today it plans to close its Augusta area location on February 22nd. The 41,000 square foot store opened September 2014 in "Washington Crossing" on Washington Road. The center was purchased by Fairburn-based S.J. Collins Enterprises in September 2013 and heavily renovated to accommodate the Whole Foods and other new tenants.
The Augusta Chronicle ran a story in June 2014 highlighting the improvements at Washington Crossing with excerpts from an interview with Jeff Garrison, a partner at S.J. Collins. Garrison stated, "The former Georgia State Floral Distributors space has been expanded to accommodate a 41,000-square-foot Whole Foods, which needed a larger store because of strong sales projections."
Apparently those "strong sales" failed to materialize.
Earlier this morning, a spokesperson from the Whole Foods Market corporate office in Austin, Texas released the following statement:
“As we work to position Whole Foods Market for long-term success, we have carefully evaluated our portfolio of stores to align with a more thoughtful growth strategy. As a result, we have decided to close the Augusta store. This was not a decision that was made lightly and we are working closely with all affected team members to find alternative positions at nearby stores where possible.”
The closure of Whole Foods will be the first of two grocery closures planned for Augusta. Late last month, Kroger announced it would close its store on 15th Street February 28th. “The store has experienced declining sales and negative profit over an extended period of time,” said Glynn Jenkins, spokesman for Kroger’s Atlanta division, which includes Augusta. The 35-year-old store, which anchors Central Square shopping center, had reportedly been struggling for years and had most recently been on a "short-term lease."
Earth Fare, an Asheville, North Carolina-based natural foods grocer, which has reportedly struggled in metro Atlanta, operates a store about three miles from the Whole Foods in Augusta that will surely hope to capture some market share when their competitor closes.
Amazingly, despite these closures that both cite sluggish sales, Augusta is the second largest city in Georgia with a population of about 200,000.
Earlier this evening, Whole Foods Market released some disappointing earnings that included a 2.4% decline in same-store sales, their sixth straight decline. The grocer also indicated they anticipate seeing same-store sales down as much as 2.5% this fiscal year. The grocer did however indicate that Q1 sales should climb 3% to $4.98 billion. In response to the sales report, Whole Foods announced it plans to close nine locations in the current quarter, something it hasn't done since 2008, during the great recession. However, Whole Foods will still open six locations, including those planned for Chamblee and Kennesaw.
Whole Foods is expected to debut a larger store on Ponce de Leon Avenue with a full service restaurant later this spring. The existing store in Midtown Place shopping center took over a portion of its neighboring Staples store and will swell to about 50,000 square feet. Additionally, the new Kennesaw Whole Foods is meant to serve as a replacement to the existing Harry's Farmers Market (owned by Whole Foods Market) on Powers Ferry Road in Marietta, which is slated to close when the Kennesaw location opens.
Last month, Whole Foods announced it would shut down its metro Atlanta food preparation facility by February 12th. The company is also closing regional kitchen facilities in Everett, MA and Landover, MD, shifting to outside suppliers for some of its in-store prepared foods.
S.J. Collins, which almost exclusively develops Whole Foods anchored projects according to its website, also developed the Whole Foods Market in Savannah, which opened in August 2013.
As first reported on this site, S.J. is also developing a new Whole Foods Market in Chamblee and a new 365 by Whole Foods Market in Decatur, which is expected to be the first in the state. In addition to S.J. projects, there are also new Whole Foods Market stores coming soon to Kennesaw and Midtown and another 365 by Whole Foods Market planned for Buckhead.
Are you surprised that Whole Foods is closing its Augusta location? Which Atlanta area Whole Foods store are you most excited about? Do you think Whole Foods will bounce back from its recent struggles or are there too many grocers offering natural foods for the retailer to compete in what has become an overly crowded space?
Please share your thoughts below.