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Athens, Ga., Commercial Corridor in Limbo as Kroger Shuts Supermarket

When the Athens Harris Teeter grocery store shuts down ...

When the Athens Harris Teeter grocery store shuts down on July 6, the Alps Road commercial corridor will be without a supermarket for the first time in nearly 40 years.

A representative of Harris Teeter said the company's grocery store in Colonial Promenade at Beechwood, 196 Alps Road, will close as the result of a planned acquisition by The Kroger Co.

The Kroger Co.'s pending purchase of 15 Harris Teeter grocery stores, including the one on Alps Road, will effectively take Harris Teeter out of both the Athens and Atlanta markets.

On Monday, Cincinnati, Ohio-based Kroger reported it had reached an agreement with Matthews, N.C.-based Ruddick Corp., parent company of Harris Teeter, to buy supermarkets in the Atlanta and Athens market within the next 30 days.

Kroger officials have not said whether they would convert the sites to Kroger stores or keep them closed.

Harris Teeter spokeswoman Jessica Graham said the stores involved in the sale will be closed during the weekend of July 6. The Athens store will shut down that day, she said.

The 35,000-square-foot Harris Teeter, which opened in Colonial Promenade at Beechwood in 1992, is within a mile of the Kroger grocery at 2361 W. Broad St.

A Kroger representative said Tuesday it is too early to say what Kroger will do in connection with the two stores.

It's really very preliminary, said Kroger's Anette Granger. Our plans are to operate the majority of them (the Harris Teeter stores). We haven't made a decision. We have to evaluate all the factors that go into the demographics of the stores. When the Athens Harris Teeter closes, it will be the second major grocery to cease operations on Alps Road in a little more than a year. In May 2000, Winn Dixie shuttered its store in Alps Shopping Center.

William Harris, 80, an Athens retiree, said he shopped frequently at the Harris Teeter store.

I'm sorry to see it go, because the more competition the better, he said.

With the Winn Dixie gone from the area, Harris said, eventually Kroger is going to raise its prices. Alison Abernathy, 29, of Athens, who shopped at Harris Teeter once a week, said she hopes another store will move into the area. We need a grocery store either here or where the Winn Dixie used to be, she said. I'd love it if a Publix would go in there. Rhonda Williams, 57, of Greensboro, said she made the 45-minute drive to Harris Teeter about twice a month because it carried items she couldn't find elsewhere, like peanut sauce and other ethnic foods.

I will have to look for another place in Athens, she said.

Rachel Short of Athens, a longtime Harris Teeter shopper, learned of the closing Monday when she came in to buy some pimientos.

I couldn't believe it, she said. I don't want all these people to lose their jobs. Harris Teeter's Graham said the Athens store employed 58 workers, including managers. She anticipates that Kroger will consider Harris Teeter employees for jobs.

Kroger, she said, is very interested in our associates, because they are known for customer service, and they are well-trained. Kroger's Granger confirmed that her company would be talking with Harris Teeter's employees. Kroger employs 1,000 people in Athens and Atlanta.

We hope to hire many of the employees, she said. All the hourly and management people will be given an opportunity to interview with us. Graham said Harris Teeter decided to sell its stores in Atlanta and Athens and a dozen in South Carolina because the stores were considered a drain on the company's operating profit