Last month, Bi-Lo, one of the region's biggest grocers, closed six stores in the Charlotte area, part of a companywide restructuring after its parent company filed for bankruptcy.
The closures left huge, difficult-to-fill voids in the shopping centers each store occupied — Bi-Lo stores tend to be around 40,000-50,000 square feet in size. In many areas across the Carolinas and elsewhere, the Bi-Lo that closed was the only grocery store for miles.
The stores' closures are leaving many curious as to what will fill the space they left behind.
In some cases, it'll be another grocery store. That's what's happening in Myrtle Beach, Florence, S.C., and Columbia, where Food Lion last week announced plans to buy four Bi-Lo locations that recently closed. Bi-Lo rival Piggly Wiggly filed paperwork this week to buy a shuttered Bi-Lo store in north Charleston, the Post & Courier reported Wednesday. And Florida-based Publix is buying a Bi-Lo property in Seneca, S.C.
At the Harveys, which has the same parent company as Bi-Lo, that closed in northeast Charlotte on The Plaza, landlords are hoping for a new supermarket. Property owner Vasile Dovan said it could be a Latino or Asian grocer that comes in.
"We're shooting for a grocery store because of where the center is situated," he said.
Publix said it doesn't have plans yet to buy any of the nine Bi-Lo/Harveys locations that recently closed in North Carolina. Salisbury-based Food Lion and Matthews-based Harris Teeter don't either — for now.
“We are always reviewing our strategy for how we can best serve our customers," Food Lion spokeswoman Emma Inman told the Observer.
But Harris Teeter has in the past bought closed store locations to open up in. That's what it did at an old Lowes Foods store in Ballantyne in 2012, for instance (although Harris Teeter closed that location this year.)
Joe Caldwell, a spokesman for Bi-Lo parent company Southeastern Grocers, said Bi-Lo doesn't own a majority of its store locations – most of them are under leases so he could not comment on the fate of all its shuttered store locations.
In Charlotte, landlords are getting even more creative with empty grocery-store space. A Studio Movie Grill theater, for instance, is planned to take the place of a Bi-Lo grocery store that closed last summer in north Charlotte off Prosperity Church Road.
Founded in 1961, Bi-Lo is the No. 6 grocery chain in the Charlotte area by market share, according to sales-tracking firm Chain Store Guide. The company has been losing market share as it scaled back its local presence in recent years. The company closed a Fort Mill, S.C., store last summer, for instance.
In total last month, Southeastern Grocers closed 94 under-performing stores across seven states under the Bi-Lo, Harveys and Winn-Dixie banners. The chain closed nine stores total in North Carolina, and another 19 in South Carolina.
Bi-Lo still competes with other low-cost grocers such as Food Lion and Walmart. To keep a competitive edge, Bi-Lo converted three of its Charlotte stores into Harveys Supermarkets over the last few years, too.
Bi-Lo went bankrupt in separate instances in 2005 then in 2009, a move it attributed in part to the financial crisis. That year, Bi-Lo sold a majority of its assets, including its inventory, to Food Lion for $425 million.
In 2010, the company emerged from bankruptcy, and a year later it purchased Jacksonville, Fla.-based Winn-Dixie for $560 million.