If you live in Virginia-Highland or Midtown, it's easy to take your grocery store for granted.
You've got Trader Joe's on Monroe Drive. Whole Foods is across the street from City Hall East. Don't want to go to the Publix on Ponce de Leon Avenue? You can visit the grocer's other location at North Avenue and Piedmont Drive.
But if you live in historically under-invested west and southwest Atlanta, a place to buy fresh fruit, milk, bread, or even toilet paper can be a luxury. One that Vine City, Washington Park and other west Atlanta neighborhoods residents many of whom are seniors or lack reliable transportation to buy the daily necessities fear they're about to lose.
After seven and half years, the Publix on Martin Luther King Drive is scheduled to shut down. When exactly? Christmas Eve at 7 p.m.
"This is gonna change people's lives," said Councilman Ivory Young, who represents many of the neighborhoods who could potentially be impacted by the store's closure. "You've got families and businesses who've moved in that area based on that grocery store."
The store is located in the Historic Westside Village, a revitalization project by developer Russell New Urban Developement LLC that sits between James P. Brawley Boulevard and Joseph Lowery Boulevard.
The project promised a grocery store alongside retail and residential units for the historically overlooked and underinvested community where the majority of residents live below the poverty line.
According to the Atlanta Development Authority's 2009 third quarter disclosure report (PDF), at least $2.1 million in public dollar incentives from the Westside Tax Allocation District have been allocated to the project. That district has funded projects ranging from the World of Coca-Cola near Centennial Olympic Park to the Gateway Center, a homeless support facility on Northside Drive.
A Publix spokeswoman contacted by CL says the company's decision to close the West Side Village location comes down to economics and broken promises.
"The sales have failed to meet projections and goals," she says. "And the development that was originally promised in the original lease has not come to fruition."
Part of Publix's decision to open a store in the area, the spokeswoman said, was based on a lease agreement with the Atlanta Development Authority, which first owned the property. In 2005, the property was sold to national builder Trammell Crow and well-known Atlanta builder H. J. Russell and Company. It's now owned by Russell New Urban Development LLC, the development arm of H.J. Russell. The firm planned to build "significant retail and residential units" in the surrounding area. But residents and Publix say that mixed-use development has stalled.
In the seven and a half years Publix has operated in West Side Village, the company spokeswoman said, it's had discussions with the developer about the progress but to no avail. CL's attempts to reach Russell New Urban were unsuccessful.
"We've served the community and offered a great shopping experience and goals just have not been met," the spokeswoman said. "It is something we have to do as a business. It's a business decision to close the store to be responsible."
Now residents are concerned about what happens next. To the impacted employees, surrounding communities and the grocery store that's been a godsend for a part of town that's historically had to travel long distances for quality food. While convenience stores abound in the nearby neighborhoods, they lack the supply and choice of goods one can find at the Publix location.
"We have no place to go but Publix," said resident Nyasa Waikwa on Tuesday as he walked home from the store. "It's the only real grocery store in the neighborhood. If they close it it will really mess up the neighborhood."
What concerns resident Sims-Alvarado the most is that no other grocery store has announced plans to move into Publix's space and serve a clientele that includes families, seniors and students at nearby Atlanta University Center. If it closes, Washington Park resident Karcheik Sims-Alvarado said, residents' only other grocery option is the West End Kroger or another Publix location at Atlantic Station.
Sims-Alvarado acknowledges she's fortunate she has reliable transportation and isn't living on as fixed an income as some of her neighbors. But many residents of the surrounding communities aren't, and have to walk or take public transit to shop for groceries.
"Say a person wants to go to the Kroger on Cascade [Road]," she said. "They'd have to walk to the Ashby MARTA station, go to Five Points, get on another train, get off at West End, and then probably wait for a bus to take them the store."
By then, Sims-Alvarado said, hours will have passed and the gallon of milk they bought will already be warm. She says she'd like to see Publix continue to service the community's food needs for at least another six months until a new tenant can be found.
Post 1 At-Large Councilman-elect Michael Julian Bond, speaking during public comment at yesterday's Council meeting, said that prior to the Historic Westside Village Publix location, the community had been without a grocery store for 30 years. He said and residents agreed that it's vital to maintaining interest and investment in a community that's been walloped by the economic downturn.
"Publix being there is a linchpin on redevelopment surrounding that community," Bond said. "Publix needs a new deal. We need to direct the [Atlanta Development Authority] and developer to work day and night for Publix to remain."
He continued: "This is a very serious matter. The City of Atlanta proper has over $100 million in public and private investment in West Side Village. If that grocery store is allowed to leave, it will devastate that community and set it back 30 years."
The Publix spokeswoman said, however, that at this point the company's decision is final. Two weeks ago, employees were notified of the closure. The store will post a sign this week to inform customers that they'll lock the doors for good on Dec. 24.
"We deserve an explanation [about why Publix is closing]," Sims-Alvarado said. "But more importantly, we want a resolution. We want a grocery store."
Last night, the Atlanta City Council approved a resolution (PDF) sponsored by Young that urges Publix to sit down and reconsider its decision. If not, he asks they at least consider keeping their doors open for another year to find a new tenant.
The councilman will hold a town hall meeting tonight at 6 p.m. at Puritan Mills on Joseph Lowery Boulevard to discuss the scheduled Publix shutdown and other community matters. Sources say representatives from Russell New Urban are scheduled to attend.
(Photos by Joeff Davis)
This post has been altered to correct an error. Details about the property's ownership has also been clarified.
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