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harris teeter sign photo

Okay, don’t panic – but the headline above has been many Harris Teeter fans’ worst fear since Kroger completed its buyout of the chain just over a year ago. It’s not happening everywhere, but for Harris Teeter shoppers in Tennessee, the fear that their favorite store will morph into Kroger is becoming a reality. And shoppers in some other states could find that their stores might be next.

Harris Teeter has announced that it’s pulling out of Tennessee, retreating back across the state’s eastern border to its home state of North Carolina. Harris Teeter had a relatively small presence in the Volunteer State, with just five stores in the Nashville area. But one closed in February, and now another will close within the next several weeks. The remaining three will be converted to Kroger stores beginning this summer.

“Opening and closing stores is a necessary part of the retail industry, and leaving a market is always a difficult decision,” Harris Teeter spokesperson Danna Jones said in a statement. “The Nashville market did not support Harris Teeter’s future business plans.”

So might that apply to other far-flung Harris Teeter locations, such as the two coastal stores in Delaware, or the sole lonely outposts in Georgia and Florida, all of which are more than a hundred miles away from their nearest neighboring Harris Teeter?

Possibly. But before we get into speculation, there’s reality to deal with for Harris Teeter devotees in Tennessee. The higher-end store, with its large selection, attentive customer service and generous coupon policy (double coupons up to 99 cents every day, with occasional triple coupon events) has made it a favorite of many shoppers. Harris Teeter ranked 17th out of 68 stores on Consumer Reports’ most recent survey of the country’s best supermarkets. Kroger, in contrast, was a middling 31st.

And it shows – at least according to Tennessee Harris Teeter fans. Kroger may be a profitable, eminently successful supermarket chain – but beloved? Not quite. “Thank you for selling us out and giving all of Nashville one giant middle finger,” one angry Nashville shopper wrote on Harris Teeter’s Facebook page. “I hear they are going to remodel the stores,” one commenter wrote on the Nashville Scene website. “They are going to install dull yellow ceiling tiles and put a layer of grease and dust on the fluorescent bulbs to get that claustrophobic feel they so love.”

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Actually, the rebranded stores will be closed for anywhere from five to twelve months for major remodeling, so it will involve much more than just slapping a Kroger sign on the front of the building. One remodeled store will even replace a current Kroger store nearby, which will close when the remodeled one opens. So there’s a chance the rebranded stores will be nicer, cleaner and newer than the Harris Teeters they’re replacing. And at least the Nashville-area Kroger stores are among the last Krogers in the country that still double coupons.

But still. For most shoppers familiar with both stores, Kroger is no Harris Teeter. Both chains insist that the Nashville move is just a strategic decision specific to that market, and that Harris Teeter isn’t going away as a brand. But now that Harris Teeter has pulled up stakes from its westernmost stores, could its northernmost and southernmost stores be next?

That could depend how much of an appetite the parent company has for expansion – and which direction it’s looking to move. If Kroger makes a new acquisition in the Northeast, the Delaware Harris Teeter stores could be ripe for Kroger conversions. And if Kroger looks toward Florida, the two Harris Teeter stores on either side of the Georgia-Florida state line would fit in nicely as future Krogers.

Either way, with Kroger making no secret of its desire to expand, while Harris Teeter contracts, it now appears more likely that Harris Teeter will remain something of a boutique regional banner for Kroger, and not a candidate for large-scale growth.

Or there’s always the possibility someday that Kroger could say, to heck with it all, let’s turn all of the Harris Teeters into Krogers. Unlikely, perhaps, but then Harris Teeter said it was committed to Nashville, too – until it wasn’t. “Time to start lobbying for a Wegmans to come to Nashville,” a Nashville Scene commenter wrote about the store ranked #1 in Consumer Reports’ supermarket survey.

Hey, after losing their favorite grocery store, a jilted Nashville shopper can dream!

Photo by Charleston’s TheDigitel

One Comment

  1. John Chester says:

    Not so much in SE Virginia…
    21 Farm Fresh locations were sold & becoming Kroger, Harris Teeter and Food Lion stores.
    Of those bought by Kroger/Teeter, we’re told that MOST will become Harris Teeter stores… even some 2 blocks away from current Harris Teeter stores.
    Go figure!

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