Sunday, March 01, 2009

Hook Us Up, Kroger: An Open Letter to Mr. Dillon

David Dillon
CEO, The Kroger Company
1014 Vine Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202

RE: Downtown Cincinnati

Dear Mr. Dillon:

I write concerning the critical gap in the grocery market in downtown Cincinnati. As a downtown resident and worker, this is of serious concern to me. But more importantly, the issue raises a pressing business opportunity for your company.

Kroger has regularly been criticized for its only downtown/Over-the-Rhine store at 1420 Vine Street. We've even done our fair share of lambasting at the Cincinnati Blog. We certainly appreciate the company's efforts to revitalize the store during a few years ago. Ultimately, though, the store's footprint is simply too small for the store to one that your company can be proud to have in the shadow of your corporate headquarters.

A few days ago, because I was "in the neighborhood," I made my first visit to your "Fresh Fare" store in Kenwood. I'd never been to a "Fresh Fare" Kroger; I was impressed. Comparing the Vine Street Kroger to the Kenwood store is like comparing a summer weekend festival's attractions to those at King's Island. Wow. Wow, wow, wow.

The people of downtown and Over-the-Rhine deserve a quality grocery store from the grocery company so closely identified with the Queen City. But that's an argument that's been made for a long time, and one that repeatedly falls on deaf ears in the Kroger hierarchy. So let's focus on why Kroger's interests are served by an expanded downtown location.

More people live downtown and in Over-the-Rhine than did a few years ago. And while the Vine Street store is sufficient if we need a few things, it's not good enough for weekly shopping. That means that people who can do so drive outside of downtown to buy groceries. But once I'm leaving downtown, the chance that I go to Kroger (either to Bellevue or Hyde Park, most likely) is only one-in-three, at best. I might go to Meijer. I might go to Bigg's. Or maybe, I'll get wild and crazy and head all the way out to Jungle Jim's.

There's land available for a Fresh Fare Kroger. There's a big parking lot on the eastern edge of downtown known as "Broadway Commons." The owners don't seem really married to hanging onto the property. They wanted to sell to permit the building of the baseball and football stadia there. More recently, they were hoping a casino company would buy them out. I'm sure they'd sell to Kroger.

Think about the business a Fresh Fare store would do at that location. New residential buildings are opening all time in downtown and OTR. Within the next half-decade, residents will start occupying housing in the Banks. Kroger should already have a store in place by then; it's much easier to attract business from those looking to develop habits, rather than to change pre-existing habits--which is what will happen if Kroger continues to take a wait-and-see approach to downtown residency.

But it's not just your neighbors who would frequent a Fresh Fare store. Think about all the people who, on their way home from downtown jobs, would stop in your store to pick up dinner. Broadway Commons is on the way to I-71 from downtown. It's perfect!

I realize it's tough to think about expansion in this economy. But downtown and OTR is one of the few areas to which people continue to relocate. Kroger should take advantage of this, rewarding both itself with lots of new business and longtime OTR residents who have steadfastly patronized the vastly inferior OTR store out of loyalty to your company.

Kroger is a great Cincinnati company. It should have a great Cincinnati location.


Donald Caster

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