Community still stewing in beef with grocery store

Residents have complained about the cleanliness at the Kroger Metropolitan Citi-Center. They have shown the alcohol License Review Board photos of litter on the shelves, including a half-eaten apple. Image credit: Neighborhood Planning Unit-X

Credit: NPU-X

Credit: NPU-X

Residents have complained about the cleanliness at the Kroger Metropolitan Citi-Center. They have shown the alcohol License Review Board photos of litter on the shelves, including a half-eaten apple. Image credit: Neighborhood Planning Unit-X

Last week, I wrote a column about Southside Atlanta residents who have been asking supermarket giant Kroger to fix up the local store.

The residents, along with a community group, have complained about the condition of the Metropolitan Citi-Center Kroger and the quality of the products available.

Several readers wrote to tell me that Kroger is being unfairly painted in a bad light.

“You did not address everyday stealing at the Kroger you criticize,” wrote one reader. “Is there vagrancy there? Are customers being accosted in the parking lot? Probably.”

The reader went on to suggest that “woke” district attorneys allow people to steal with impunity and that this is the reason why the company might not want to put money into making the location nicer.

Another reader wanted me to think of Kroger as an individual. “We don’t expect an individual to invest repeatedly in a business or community that doesn’t repay their trust,” the reader wrote.

I don’t know if this Kroger location has an unusually high number of thefts. But I do know that most of the people who frequent the store aren’t thieves. So, a small number of bad actors is no reason to dismiss the concerns of many in the neighborhood.

For weeks, the neighborhood planning unit (NPU-X ) and the Kroger Metropolitan Citi-Center location have been in a standoff. During an April 17 video conference, the community and Kroger representatives seemed to have different objectives. Some residents walked away feeling like they had gotten nowhere.

I asked Kroger to comment on the meeting, but I didn’t get a response until after my deadline. I’ll share that response below, but first a refresher on what’s happening.

Residents have sought to secure guarantees, in writing, from Kroger that it will improve store cleanliness, management and products.

Kroger reps have been willing to entertain conversations about the items available on store shelves, but they declined to make formal agreements.

Zach Adriaenssens, chair of NPU-X, asked Kroger leaders to do a walk-through of the store with community members. Instead, Kroger’s leadership team did their own walk-through, and Atlanta Division President Victor Smith followed up with community members in writing.

A spokesperson for the grocery store told me that Kroger is taking the community concerns seriously. There are plans to immediately inspect store cleanliness.

The store pledged to regularly sanitize checkout areas and clean restrooms more frequently. Shopping carts will be repaired and more will be added. Expired products and produce will be removed from shelves. And in the next six weeks, the interior of the store and bathrooms will get new paint.

Back in April, as the store was in the process of trying to make a minor change to its liquor license, the board that reviews such licenses chose to delay its decision until Kroger leaders responded to community concerns.

The neighborhood group was not trying to prevent the store from selling beer and wine, but it did want to use the License Review Board’s review as leverage to get Kroger’s attention and make sure any promises are fulfilled.

In a memo to the community, NPU leaders wrote that they are pushing for “meaningful two-way dialogue,” with Kroger and that they had asked “the city not to allow Kroger to continue profiting off of beer and wine sales until Kroger shares more concrete commitments, including who will be in charge of maintaining these standards and how will they ensure these changes remain lasting.”

Tuesday, Kroger reps were back in front of the License Review Board. And so was NPU-X, joined by other members of the community that represent a larger portion of southwest Atlanta. Sixteen residents offered public comments, with all except one asking the board to again delay granting Kroger a license.

Residents showed the board photos of opened or expired food throughout the store, years of caked dirt on bathroom vents and improvised supports holding up broken racks of meat.

Representatives from Kroger gave additional details on their plans, stating that they have increased the frequency of cleanliness checks to the bathroom and parking lot. They said the store will hire 10 courtesy clerks to help monitor those areas and have ordered 150 new shopping carts. They also said Kroger leadership is willing to meet with residents if needed.

“In the grocery business, as in any business, agreements are ongoing. Our commitment on Kroger’s behalf is to continue listening,” said Tammie Young-Ennaemba, spokeswoman for Kroger.

With that, License Review Board members concluded that Kroger had met the board’s request to develop and share an action plan with the community. They approved the store’s license.

Now it’s time for Kroger to follow through.

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