It’s happened time and again in Hendersonville and other cities. A large retailer like Kroger or Walmart decides to upgrade its operations by moving to another location, leaving behind an empty building and fewer potential customers for the remaining businesses in the area.
In May it was Kroger again. Having moved decades earlier from Imperial Boulevard to 170 E. Main Street, the new 102,000-square-foot store has recently brought new life to the former Kmart location less than a mile down Main Street.
Still, business owners left behind say they’re struggling and that they hope city leaders will do their part to make sure the once-heavily-trafficked area near Drakes Creek Park continues to thrive.
At issue is whether or not the city should grant a request to Kroger, who is leasing its former 170 E. Main Street building, to add general warehousing to the list of permitted uses for the building.
Kroger submitted plans to convert 8,890 square feet of the 59,000-square-foot building to offices and 25,000 square feet to warehousing/storage space. The remaining 25,000 square feet would be retail. Adjoining tenant spaces like Baskin Robbins and Pizza Hut are under separate ownership but in the same planned development.
Members of the Hendersonville Regional Planning Commission gave a nod to the request Jan. 2, but also voted that the change was significant enough to send to the city’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen for a vote on Jan. 23.
According to John Corbett, real estate manager for Kroger’s Nashville division, the company wants to use the space for a corporate disaster recovery facility in the event of a disaster at its Nashville corporate office. He said there would be far fewer trucks coming in and out of the facility than when the store was located there – roughly one a week.
Corbett said the company has tried to lease the entire building, but there has been no interest. He has received interest, however from a few smaller retailers, and said the company would continue to find tenants to sublease to.
Owners of two local businesses said they’re concerned that allowing uses other than retail would continue to hurt their businesses.
“Our biggest concern is losing traffic,” said Black-eyed Pea owner Bob Langford. “We really need to maximize this property. We appreciate what Kroger has done for our community, but we want to make sure we have as much traffic in that area.”
Baskin Robbins owner Teresa Gravelle said her family-owned store has been at the same strip mall location as Kroger for more than two decades.
Since May, when Kroger moved to its new location across Main Street, Gravelle says she’s lost close to $50,000 in business.
Great Clips, another business in the strip mall, has announced it’s moving near the new Kroger at the end of the month.
“We all depend on traffic coming into that center,” said Gravelle. “That whole area there is still in the center of Hendersonville. I just hate to see it sit vacant. I would just like some good consideration for retail. I just don’t want to see another empty building in Hendersonville.”
Planning Commission member Kee Bryant-McCormick said she was disappointed Kroger had not found a tenant for the building.
“I remember when you guys came before us to get approval for the building across the street,” said Bryant-McCormick. “We expressly talked about what’s going to happen to your previous building. We did not want a cycle of this same concept because as you know… Kmart became blighted and we were saying we didn’t want that to happen across the street and you guys had a proposal at that point of what you thought would happen and it sounded really great and we were really excited.
“So I can’t help but be disappoint that we are here a year later addressing this same issue with another cycle of another property that we were hoping to not be at,” she added.
Planning Commission member Charles Lea said he hopes Kroger will consider other uses for the property like a governmental or educational facility, but moved to approve the added use request.
“Kroger has been a good corporate member of this community,” Lea said.
“My fear is without [Kroger] aggressively improving and marketing this space within another year when their lease runs out we could really have a vacant piece of unimproved property on our hands that could become an eyesore.”
City leaders are expected to vote on a resolution to amend the final development plan for the Drakes Creek Shopping Center at the Jan. 23 Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting beginning at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.