Shoppers say moves will cause hardship

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally appeared in The Wichita Eagle and on Kansas.com on Feb. 1, 2008.

Once or twice a week, 81-year-old Bernice Jeys walks two blocks to the Dillons store at Douglas and Meridian to do her grocery shopping.

"I like it because they really have nice checkers there, and they have an excellent man in their meat department," the retired bank worker said. "He's like the old-fashioned guy who cuts it to your liking. He really goes out of his way."

But Jeys, who doesn't drive, will soon have to go farther for her groceries. The city's biggest supermarket chain plans to relocate the store next month, along with three other centrally located Dillons stores. The new locations will be three former Homeland grocery stores that Dillon Stores purchased.

The announcement this week brought criticism from customers, neighborhood boosters and advocates for the poor in some of the neighborhoods where the stores are located. They say the areas served by those stores contain high concentrations of low-income residents, the elderly and people without cars.

"It's going to have a profound effect on our neighborhood," said Karen Dobbin, director of development for Inter-Faith Ministries. The nonprofit operates 65 apartments for low-income residents in the Midtown neighborhood, near the Dillons at 13th and Waco. That Dillons is moving to 21st and Amidon, about two miles to the northwest by main roads.

"Right now it's within walking distance, so they will utilize that a lot versus going to a higher-priced convenience store," she said.

Asked what would happen when the store moves, Dobbin said, "I don't know. They'll probably go to the QuikTrip."

Still in the neighborhood?

Midtown and the adjacent Riverside neighborhood have some of the city's oldest houses and many elderly residents.

"I was shocked," Dan Fitzgerald, president of the Historic Midtown Citizens Association, said of the closings. "I thought it was a high-volume store. It will be missed, definitely. I guess that's the wave of the future. Everybody will have to drive to a big box."

Dillons spokeswoman Sheila Lowrie said the chain "understands and apprecia tes the concerns raised by some of our customers. These new locations allow us to solidify our long-term purpose in these areas and provide an opportunity to continue serving these communities.

"We hope those people that shopped at our other stores will give those other locations a try," she said.

Bobby Hulbert, who lives in the Linwood neighborhood near the store at Lincoln and Hydraulic, said its closing will hurt her neighbors who don't have cars. She wondered how Dillons could "dare to say the new locations are still in the neighborhood."

The store replacing hers will be at Douglas and Hillside, about two miles to the northeast.

Affect of move on other businesses

In 1997, Dillons announced plans to close the store at Central and Oliver, but backed off after residents of College Hill and Crown Heights protested. Angry customers made hundreds of calls to Dillons management and neighborhood association leaders planned a rally before the chain reversed itself. Now the store will close; the new store will be about 1. 5 miles away.

So far, no organized protests or petition drives have surfaced.

College Hill resident Beth King, who helped organize residents in 1997, said she expects fewer people will be upset this time around, because of the future Dillons at Douglas and Hillside.

"They will still maintain a presence in the neighborhood," she said.

Businesses located near the Dillons stores that are closing could also be affected.

"I know a lot of people go to the store and then come over here," Marilyn Appelhans, manager of Maggie's Liquor at Douglas and Meridian, said. "I think we'll lose some. I don't know how much."

'It served my purpose'

Plans call for the old stores to close during the first few weeks in February, with new locations opening the next day.

Lorrie Griffith, editor of the Shelby Report, a grocery industry trade publication, said it's common for supermarket chains to close older stores when building or renovating other ones. If it's not a "terrible inconven ience," satisfied customers are likely to follow, she said.

"Sometimes, independent grocers will look at those (old) locations and decide they can go in and serve those neighborhoods," Griffith added.

That's the only thing that will keep Jeys from having to find a ride to a new Dillons about 1.7 miles away.

The store where she's shopped for more than 20 years doesn't much resemble the superstores popping up on either edge of the city. But she'll miss the neighborhood store where she not only liked the meat man, but could also cash checks, buy stamps and mail packages.

"It served my purposes," she said. "I have no complaints whatsoever."