Lucky's Goes Bust
Kroger giveth and Kroger taketh away.
by Britain Woodman
From the March, 2020 issue
Lucky's Market, on South Industrial Ave., announced its closure in late January. Both its opening and closing can be traced to decisions by Kroger, the largest grocery chain in the U.S.
When its decades-old lease at South Industrial came up for renewal in 2014, Kroger was reluctant to sign on again at current market value. The South Industrial store was a stark contrast to Kroger's new "Marketplace" stores, with Starbucks and other vendors' counters and general merchandise alongside the grocery items. Kroger closed the location in June 2014.
After nine months of renovation, Lucky's Market opened there, promising to compete with Whole Foods on price and attracting Kroger's attention. About a year after its opening, Kroger invested $100 million in the chain, fueling more aggressive expansion. At its peak, Lucky's numbered thirty-nine stores, over half of them in Florida.
Lucky's positioned itself as a whimsical, cheaper alternative to Whole Foods. (Its own-brand packaging included taglines like "A paste you can eat.") It often priced some items in weekly sales, like produce, comparable to larger supermarket chains. It tended toward own-brands and organic or natural foods, with fewer mass-market items and name brands on the shelves. A significant portion of the store, "The Apothecary," was dedicated to vitamins, supplements, and naturopathic remedies.
A few months after its grand opening, Lucky's received its license to serve alcohol, becoming the first grocery in the area to serve beer and wine by the glass, at a small bar by their deli. As the bar took off in popularity, often hosting live music and hot-food specials at dinnertime, the bulk-foods section was reduced in size to accommodate more seating.
But Lucky's prospects dimmed sharply after Amazon bought Whole Foods two years ago. Late last year, Kroger withdrew from their "strategic alliance," sending the smaller chain into a tailspin. At the end of January it filed for Chapter Eleven bankruptcy, owing more than $300 million to Kroger.
Lucky's founders, Bo and Trish Sharon, have bid $3.7 million to keep seven stores, including Traverse City and Cleveland. Publix, an institution in the southeastern U.S., bid on some of the Florida locations. Discount grocer Aldi is said to be in talks to acquire other Lucky's stores. The South Industrial location closed in early February and is being offered for lease.
[Originally published in March, 2020.]
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