MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson is calling for a national boycott of Cincinnati-based Kroger after it closed three unprofitable grocery stores in February.
Gathering in Memphis' Orange Mound neighborhood, the first southern community historically open to African-American homeowners, a crowd of protestors sang "We Shall Overcome" and promised to visit Kroger's headquarters to voice concerns in coming weeks.
“Kroger wants to maintain the right to leave and then destroy competition,” Jackson told Local24. “That's mean for them to reduce us to a (food) desert. It’s mean and evil and we intend to fight back.”
Cheryl Scales, president of Friends of Orange Mound, told Local24 reporters she wants Kroger to understand that they must "sit at the table" with community members before unilaterally turning the neighborhood into a food desert without easy access to fresh, healthy food.
"When they made their announcement to close, they walked away in 30 days, no conversation with the community at all," Scales said. "They owe this community at least the conversation. If not the conversation, we must rethink how we give loyalty to retailers who don't respect the people who respect them."
Kroger's decision in Memphis mirrors the closure of its Walnut Hills location on East McMillan Street in March 2017.
"The store has lost significant profits for more than 25 years and has been profitable only one year since 1991. Over the last six years, it has lost $4.9 million," Patty Leesemann, public affairs manager for Kroger, told WCPO.
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.
"I'm a senior and I can't walk that far, and this is close to me gettin' where I'm goin,'" said Donna Farmer. “I feel it's a shame they’re closing Krogers it’s too many senior citizens live right there.”
In November 2017, the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation purchased the land lease for the property and is evaluating how to redevelop the site.