CINCINNATI -- Just days after calling for a national boycott of the Kroger Co., the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. brought his fight to the corporation's front porch.
The Rainbow Push Coalition Local Steering Committee invited Jackson to Cincinnati as he continues his protest over Kroger closures in predominantly black neighborhoods. Kroger closed three unprofitable grocery stores in Memphis in February, mirroring its closure of a store in Cincinnati's Walnut Hills neighborhood last year. The company said its East McMillan Street location had lost millions of dollars over years.
"We wrote a letter to the leadership of Kroger, and they did not respond to us," Jackson said. "This is a pattern across the country. There are enough mouths to be fed and people to be served for Kroger to stay in the community. They may want to leave, but there are people who want to buy."
Watch Jackson's full remarks in the video player below.
In his remarks Tuesday morning in front of the shuttered Walnut Hills Kroger, the civil rights leader also characterized FC Cincinnati's plan to put a stadium in the predominantly black West End neighborhood as gentrification and lent his support to embattled City Manager Harry Black.
Walnut Hills residents, particularly those without cars, were sad to see their local store close up shop even as a new Kroger opened up about a mile away near the University of Cincinnati.
"Kroger wants to maintain the right to leave and then destroy competition. That's mean for them to reduce us to a desert. It's mean and evil and we intend to fight back," Jackson said last week.
Kroger said the Walnut Hills store lost money in 20 of the 30 years it operated. The company tried several different approaches to bring it back to profitability.
"We believe that ultimately the best way for Kroger to provide even more access to fresh food and healthy food at low prices is by running a sustainable business. That starts with running profitable stores," said Keith Dailey, Kroger's senior director for external affairs. "While it's always a difficult decision to close any store location, when we do it we always try to close a store in a way that respects the community and our associates."
Dailey said "a significant number" of Kroger's former customers in Walnut Hills now shop at its new Corryville store, which opened when the McMillan Street store closed. Dailey added that "not one job was lost" because of the closure.
In the last 18 months, Kroger closed about 50 of its 2,800 stores because they were underperforming.
"Only about 10 percent operated in communities that some might call underserved," Dailey said.
City Councilman Wendell Young also spoke in front of the former Walnut Hills store Tuesday, accusing Kroger of not caring about the people who live in the city where it's headquartered.
"Kroger, based in the city of Cincinnati, has decided that profit is more important than people -- people who without stores in their neighborhood are reduced to living in food deserts," Young said. "They exacerbate the problems that go with nutrition. Our babies die sooner. Our adults die sooner."
Apart from the Kroger boycott, Jackson also addressed what some have called a "smear campaign" against Black by Mayor John Cranley, who wants his hand-picked city manager gone. Cranley met with Jackson Monday night and, in a statement Tuesday afternoon, said he "shared his perspective that Kroger is a phenomenal partner to the City of Cincinnati and is actively investing in our urban core."
According to the Mayor's office, Cranley "looks forward to continued dialogue with Reverend Jackson."
— John Cranley (@JohnCranley) April 10, 2018
As for the West End, Jackson said a professional soccer stadium would gentrify the neighborhood and push out longtime residents. The Rainbow Push Coalition Local Steering Committee alleged "government and business leaders ignored their wishes and are considering a proposed stadium deal anyway." Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld unveiled that deal Friday.
Reporter Dan Monk and Web Editor Austin Fast contributed to this article.