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While Southeast Raleigh residents worry that Kroger’s departure will leave their neighborhood without a convenient grocery, that’s less of a worry for customers of the other Kroger closing on New Bern Avenue.
The East Raleigh Kroger – the second to be shuttered next month – shares an intersection with a Walmart supercenter. Food Lion has stores about a mile down New Bern Avenue in each direction.
Finding fresh produce around here isn’t hard. The challenge will be filling Kroger’s space in a shopping center that’s already largely vacant. The departure creates a major headache for the owner of Wilders Grove Shopping Center and the few remaining businesses that relied on the grocery store to draw traffic.
“My property keeps continuing to devalue,” said Joe Riddle, the Fayetteville developer who built the center in 1993. “It’s going to be expensive no matter what to re-upfit.”
The retail exodus at Wilders Grove started nearly 10 years ago, when Kmart closed its sprawling store there as part of bankruptcy proceedings. The 104,000-square-foot space has been vacant ever since.
That left Kroger as the sole surviving anchor store. It has faced increasing competition, with Walmart opening next door in 2004 and a second Food Lion built at Rogers Lane in 2003. Smaller businesses trickled out of the center throughout the past decade. Only a Cato, Dollar Tree, Jersey Mike’s Subs and a nail salon remain.
Patria Soriano, who owns Nail Fever and Hair, said her shop will likely take a hit, because many customers are in the area for groceries. With the SunTrust branch inside Kroger closing, she’ll have to change banks. And she’s worried about her employees’ safety.
“We’re going to be almost alone in this shopping center,” Soriano said, adding that she has years left on her lease and can’t move.
The center’s troubles are thanks in part to its lack of visibility from New Bern Avenue, Riddle said. He blames city regulations for the undesirable setup. When Wilders Grove was built, Raleigh officials required Riddle to preserve old oak trees along New Bern and plant more trees. He wasn’t allowed to install large signs advertising his tenants, he added.
“It really hurts me,” Riddle said. “The Walmart (shopping center) certainly has great visibility, and I don’t.”
Riddle hopes his center won’t be vacant for long. He says he’s talking with grocery stores interested in the Kroger space, but a new grocer wouldn’t get to keep the in-store SunTrust bank and pharmacy customers – making it a hard sell. Converting some of the space to offices is also a possibility, he said.
The Beacon Plaza shopping center down the street went through a transformation after Harris Teeter pulled out in 2003. It’s now nearly full with a variety of destination businesses: a nightclub and bars catering to Hispanics, a uniform store and a taekwondo studio.
“The challenge for me is going to be to redefine my place,” Riddle said. “There’s several fish in the sea right now; I just gotta land a hook in it.”