Video of the meeting by De’Angelo Knuckles
Summary of the meeting by Neighbor Up member Kevin Kay
John Hopkins, executive director of the Buckeye Shaker Square Development Corporation (BSSDC), gave the following reasons for the closing of the Giant Eagle store in Buckeye Plaza:
● Giant Eagle said it is losing $1.3 million per year; the population in the area around Giant Eagle has decreased by 42% since 1990; the buying power of the neighborhood is down; the rate of theft is high; Dave’s Supermarket and dollar stores are drawing grocery dollars away from Giant Eagle.
● John Hopkins said that the property owner of Buckeye Plaza (Slate Properties of Toronto, Canada) asked BSSDC to pull this community meeting together.
● Mr. Hopkins said that the property owner is willing to make concessions on Giant Eagle’s lease rates. He added that the community needs to “give the landowner ammunition to bargain with Giant Eagle.” He said that the property owner needs a commitment from the community that they will shop at Giant Eagle.
What Keeps People from Shopping at the Buckeye Plaza Giant Eagle?
Vaughn Johnson, deputy director of BSSDC, said he had already heard some customers say that safety, pricing, and the quality of produce kept them away from the store. A few folks talked about inadequate lighting, shopping cart restrictions, and poorly maintained access roads. One exasperated resident said that Giant Eagle knew how to make an attractive store because they had done so in nearby suburban communities. That resident suggested that BSSDC tell Giant Eagle, “We love your grocery stores — just not the one in our community!”
Freddie Collier, director of city planning and a member of the team negotiating with Giant Eagle, spoke for several minutes and made the following points:
● Mayor Jackson is furious about Giant Eagle’s decision and its failure to inform the administration.
● Even if the City of Cleveland were able to put together a package of financial incentives to keep Giant Eagle open, what would keep them from leaving six months or a year from now?
● The City of Cleveland needs to make specific requirements on the front end of any development agreements to hold corporations accountable for subsidies that they receive from the city. Mr. Collier added that agreements should include impact fees that could be assessed against a corporation if it were to close its operations in the city. Mr. Collier also expressed little enthusiasm for protests without strategy: “We march. . . and then what?”
Blaine Griffin, director of community relations and a member of the city’s negotiating team, also took a long-term view of the situation. He reminded audience members that the neighborhood had weathered a similar crisis with the closing of Saint Luke’s Hospital. He said that the community had figured out how to repurpose the Saint Luke’s site after the closing of the hospital.
Grocery Store Alternatives
John Hopkins, citing numerous conversations he has had with commercial real estate brokers, went through a list of grocery chains and assessed the likelihood of their being interested in the space currently occupied by Giant Eagle:
● Kroger may be coming to the greater Cleveland area but its strategy will be to open stores in the suburbs first.
● Meier’s is coming to the Cleveland area in 2-3 years. However, their store plans typically call for a space double the size of Buckeye Plaza.
● Aldi’s already has a store on Kinsman and would be unlikely to open another one in Buckeye Plaza because the location is so close to the Kinsman store.
● Marc’s has an expansion strategy focused on the suburbs.
● Sav-A-Lot has been trying to get into the Buckeye neighborhood for the past several years but has not been able to assemble a large enough parcel of land. Of all the grocery chains that Mr. Hopkins mentioned, Sav-A-Lot was the only one that he described as being seriously interested in the Buckeye Plaza location.
● One audience member asked about Wal-Mart, which Mr. Hopkins had not mentioned. The question was met with boos from many members of the audience. Mr. Hopkins emphasized that any grocery store taking over the space would be unlikely to maintain as large a store as the current Giant Eagle.
Sampling of Comments from Residents
● One resident accused Giant Eagle of price gouging and said, “I think we should let them leave. We need something better.” Her comment drew widespread cheers from the audience. She also suggested boycotting Giant Eagle’s suburban stores.
● Another resident said that the negotiating team should try to persuade GetGo to stay. He also suggested taking any incentive package that might have been offered to Giant Eagle and offering it to a black-owned grocery store.
● De’ Angelo Knuckles suggested that the Giant Eagle space be used to create an “East Side Market.”
● Rowland Mitchell emphasized that the negotiations should include releasing the store from its lease so that Giant Eagle cannot continue to control the property and so that it can be repurposed.
Follow-Up Proposed by BSSDC
● John Hopkins said that BSSDC would hold another meeting sometime after February 4 (the announced closing date of the Giant Eagle). He said that anyone who filled in the sign-in sheet would be contacted.
● Several attendees complained about the cramped quarters for this evening’s meeting and urged Mr. Hopkins to find a location for the next meeting that could accommodate a large number of people.