The struggling Upper Kanawha Valley absorbed another big hit Wednesday with the announcement by Kroger officials that the Smithers Kroger will close in late October.
Still processing the news Wednesday morning, Smithers Mayor Dr. D. Anne Cavalier said the pending loss of the store, which opened in 1993, is obviously a huge blow to the area.
"We've only had an hour to absorb the news and wrap our heads around it," said Cavalier, who said she heard the news just a few minutes before Kroger announced it.
"First and foremost, we all are concerned with the 59 employees ... facing the loss of their jobs," Cavalier said. "We will keep them in our thoughts."
Cavalier, who assumed the mayor's post this summer, said the loss of the store will affect many shoppers, including the elderly. "There are lots of roads leading down to Smithers," she said. The store, which includes a pharmacy, had a customer base of about 20,000, she estimated. Seeing the traffic that regularly visits the store, she said the closure "doesn't make logical sense."
The timing of the planned closure is "critical," Cavalier said.
"WVU closed Tech, then the Fayette County Board of Education announced the closure of the high school, and now this," she said. "They're all critical blows individually."
The bad news comes on the heels of some progress in the area in recent months. "We have worked very, very hard," she said. Cavalier pointed to the arrival of KVC Health Systems on the former college campus in Montgomery, the growth of the Upper Kanawha Valley YMCA, and other potential endeavors involving local municipalities.
"We are resilient," she said. "This calls for us to dig really deep and work really hard.
"This is now my primary focus. The residents deserve better."
Cavalier, who was out of town Wednesday, wasn't sure what percentage of the Kroger store's B&O taxes are reflected in the total city budget.
Fayette County Commission President Matt Wender said the impending closure "hurts considerably on three fronts." That includes the fact that many of the folks who shop there might not have access to travel to a store further away. Obviously, the loss of employee's jobs would be critical, too, as would be the loss of revenue via B&O taxes paid by Kroger to the city.
Kroger leases the building that houses the store.
While declining to reveal specifics, Allison McGee, from Kroger Corporate Affairs – Mid-Atlantic Division, reiterated an earlier press release by saying in an email, "As far as numbers, the store has not performed at the level we had hoped; in fact the store has experienced struggling sales over the past several years."
"We value the contributions of these associates and are sad that the store will be closing," McGee said. "Our associates are dedicated and hardworking, and this decision is not their fault.
"We are working with the associates to identify jobs in other Kroger stores. Fortunately, there are quite a few stores in the area from Charleston to Beckley. In fact, Kroger has 36 stores throughout West Virginia, and nearly all of them have job openings."
McGee said the collective bargaining agreement does not specifically provide for severance packages.
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