Hickory-area shoppers are eagerly watching the arrival of a new player in the grocery store competition, as Florida-based Publix moves into the heart of Charlotte.
How long before the giant grocery, with 1,069 stores in the Southeast, starts spreading out of Charlotte and maybe into Gaston, Lincoln and Catawba counties?
Publix said it is “aggressively seeking new sites for our stores,” and noted it is building its fifth division office in Charlotte.
The company often says its most requested locations for new stores are in North Carolina. Last fall, it opened two groceries just south of the state line, in Tega Cay, S.C., and Indian Land, S.C., and is building two stores in Charlotte, in Dilworth and Ballantyne.
Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous said locating the division headquarters in Charlotte “signifies a commitment to North Carolina” and will be the center for support services to future stores in the region. All other division headquarters are in Florida, with the exception of the Atlanta office.
She said the company does not talk about new stores until a lease is signed. She declined to talk specifically about Hickory but said that Publix is interested in the entire state.
Key factors in locating a new store is suitable land and lots of people living nearby, Brous said.
Hickory has plenty of land available for a Publix, says city planning director Brian Frazier, but the city has not been approached by the corporation. “We have land for development and redevelopment,” Frazier said. “We would love to see them come in.”
He predicted grocery prices would fall with more competition among supermarkets.
Another grocery chain talked with the city about two years ago about opening a new store but nothing came of it, Frazier said.
Many Hickory shoppers are still complaining about what they call Harris-Teeter’s desertion of the region last summer. With Publix about to arrive on the scene, Harris-Teeter strengthened its holdings in Charlotte by buying 10 Lowe’s Food Stores and swapping six Harris-Teeter stores in the region with Lowe’s.
That caused the closure of the popular Harris-Teeter on N.C. 127 in Hickory’s Viewmont community, replacing it with a Lowe’s grocery, less than 2 miles from another Lowe’s on N.C. 127. The Hickory area has several other groceries, including Food Lion and Fresh Air Galaxy.
Shopper Pat Hartung of Granite Falls said she sees fewer customers in that former Harris-Teeter. “It is depressing to go in there. We feel like you are the only shopper,” she said.
Hartung has emailed Publix, asking for a Hickory store. The company responded that it was looking for sites in the state and referred her email to its real estate department.
“We need competition among grocery stores, or they become lackadaisical,” Hartung said. “We need Publix to come here.”
She and a friend drove to Tega Cay last fall to shop at the new Publix, a 140-mile round trip. It’s something she won’t do often but plans to shop there anytime she is in Charlotte.
“I felt like a kid in a candy store,” Hartung said. “There were so many options that we don’t see here.”
Debbie Williams, executive assistant to the president at Lowe’s, said the company did not comment on competition, adding that “we’re a local, family owned store trying to meet the needs of our customers.”
Lowe’s closed a former Harris-Teeter store in Asheville because of a lack of business in November, but she said the company had no plans to close a store in the Hickory area.
Publix will open its first two Charlotte stores in 2014, in Ballantyne at Providence Road West and Johnston Road and in Dilworth at South Boulevard and Iverson Way. It has five times more stores than Matthews-based Harris-Teeter, and is the country’s largest employee-owned supermarket chain.
Dianne Whitacre Straley is a freelance writer for Gaston Catawba News. Have a story idea for Dianne? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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