Kroger Co. really likes Cloverleaf Mall. Really.
The country's second-largest grocery chain -- behind Wal-Mart is so enamored with the eastern Midlothian corridor that it's building its biggest East Coast store to date in the footprint of the dead mall. The company hopes to open the store next year.
Kroger plans its first 120,000-square-foot "Marketplace," which, in addition to groceries, typically contains a bank and a jewelry store and sells such wide-ranging items as toys, furniture, appliances and electronics.
Kroger asserted its commitment to the Cloverleaf Mall site in a letter to County Administrator Jay Stegmaier dated Dec. 18.
"Kroger is committed to be part of a large, multi-use project for the introduction of its first Marketplace store on the East Coast," writes Fenton Childers, real estate manager in the mid-Atlantic marketing area for Kroger. "I want to personally reaffirm Kroger's full commitment to Chippenham Place, our partner Crosland, and Chesterfield County."
The store doesn't come without risk. For years, the eastern Midlothian corridor has been all but dead as a vibrant retail center, with most of the area's largest retailers migrating to the western part of the county.
There is a Food Lion nearby, but the last major grocery store fronting eastern Midlothian Turnpike, a Ukrop's, closed two years ago. Bobby Ukrop, president and chief executive of Ukrop's Super Markets, says the store located a few blocks from Cloverleaf in the Buford Shopping Center just didn't generate enough volume.
Ukrop, however, says the store was also located within three or four miles of newer, larger Ukrop's stores, including one just off Chippenham and Forest Hill Avenue.
"There's no doubt that a food store can do OK there," Ukrop says, adding that there's plenty of residential housing to support a new grocery store.
Brian Glass, senior vice president of retail brokerage at Grubb & Ellis/Harrison & Bates, says Kroger's commitment to the area is a good sign.
He says Kroger, which years ago opened two Welcome Inc. big-box supermarkets in the area, knows how to operate the multi-departmental stores. The format resembles that of the Fred Meyer chain on the West Coast, which Kroger also owns and operates.
"When they do that, they are going head to head with Wal-Mart and Target," Glass says of the Marketplace stores. "I give them all the credit in the world for trying. It will be wonderful as the gateway into the county."