Thursday, June 24, 2004

Farewells to Thriftway not particularly fond

Closing day: Shoppers recall stores' decline

By Randy Tucker
Enquirer staff writer

Elaine Bridges says the only thing she'll really miss about the Thriftway in the Surrey Square center in Norwood is the fried chicken.

"The fried chicken from their deli was great," the 32-year-old said while loading groceries Wednesday afternoon in the store's parking lot. "Other than that, it was convenient. But that's about it."

Virginia Newton of Norwood loads bags of groceries into her car Wednesday at the Norwood Thriftway on Montgomery Road on the store's final day of business.
(Meggan Booker photo)
Bridges echoed the sentiments of several shoppers who came to the Norwood store Wednesday to take advantage of clearance sales at the store on its final day.

The store was among eight Thriftway locations that the chain's struggling Jacksonville, Fla.-based parent, Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., closed Wednesday.

Thriftway announced in March it was pulling out of the Greater Cincinnati market, closing 21 stores here.

Besides Norwood, stores in Blue Ash, Monfort Heights, Batavia Township, Mount Carmel, Goshen, Alexandria and Mount Zion in Boone County also closed.

Store employees have told customers those eight stores have been purchased by Kroger Co., the area's No. 1 grocer, and will reopen under the Kroger banner in four to six weeks.

Kroger has acknowledged it has a tentative agreement to buy some Thriftway stores but has refused to identify locations.

Virginia Newton, 70, lives about five blocks from the Norwood store. She has shopped there for at least 20 years, but still found it hard to get emotional about Thriftway's exit.

"I've shopped here since before Winn-Dixie bought it (in 1995), and it was a much better store then," Newton said.

"After Winn-Dixie bought it, it kind of went downhill," Newton said. "The selection wasn't as good. The prices went up. It just wasn't the same."

In recent years, Newton said she and most of her neighbors would often drive to the Kroger store in Hyde Park or another grocer that offered better selection, atmosphere and prices.

"I only shop here when they have sales on food that I like," said Pam Martin, 50, of Evanston, referring to the Norwood Thriftway, where she also was shopping on Wednesday. "Otherwise, it doesn't make too much difference to me where I go as long as they have the best prices."

That's not true for Joan Van Meter of Cold Spring, who had been a loyal customer at the Thriftway in Alexandria.

She came to the store Wednesday to take advantage of the sales and also to say goodbye to the employees she's come to know.

"After you've shopped at the same store for a while, you get to know the people," she said. "I felt bad coming here because of the employees."

But she said it wasn't just knowing the workers that made her a loyal Thriftway shopper.

"I think they (Thriftway) are comparable to Kroger and other stores in a lot of ways," she said. "I think they even have better prices on some things. But what I really liked about the store was that you generally had the whole place to yourself."

And that was part of Thriftway's problem.

Declining foot traffic contributed to its fall from second- to fourth-largest food retailer in the market since 1998.

Winn-Dixie closed the underperforming chain rather than face losses from continuing to operate in the highly competitive Cincinnati grocery store market.



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