Written by Ben Lane.
The Kroger Delta Division announced March 11 that they would close their Searcy, Arkansas, location on May 1, 2021, due to poor performance sales. In response, Harding faculty and students circulated petitions across campus last week in favor of keeping Kroger open.
Ava Conley, adjunct professor of foreign languages, created the petitions that circulated campus after Alice Jewell, retired Harding English professor, asked for help to gain signatures in favor of keeping Kroger open. Jewell had been collecting signatures in the Cloverdale neighborhood before asking for assistance. Conley identifies herself as an almost-exclusive Kroger shopper and a “concerned citizen” who is afraid that Kroger’s closing will have negative impacts on both the Searcy and Harding communities.
“We’ve got all this Harding community here, and we’ve got the neighborhoods around,” Conley said. “They don’t want to go to Walmart. There’s a couple small housing divisions where stay-at-home moms walk to Kroger. I was surprised at how many people came to the store on foot with a toddler with them.”
This is not the first time the Searcy Kroger has been set to close. In 1990, Kroger officially closed the building, and employees had either been laid off or offered a position elsewhere. However, Jewell wrote in a text to Conley that the petitions to keep Kroger from closing reversed the decision to close the store.
The paper petition has received a combined total of more than 700 signatures from the Harding petition and Searcy community petitions. Conley hasn’t counted the number of students who signed, but she said that six sheets of paper had been filled with signatures in less than 24 hours.
“Kroger’s close, it’s convenient, there is a community aspect that I don’t think corporate has taken into consideration, and that is the Harding community,” Conley said.
Not only is the local Kroger a staple for the Harding community, but for many Searcy residents as well. Many of the Searcy Kroger employees have worked there for over a decade, so closing the store will affect them.
David Forthman, 13-year employee of Searcy Kroger, is aware of the petitions on campus.
“I’m very happy about it, and so is everybody else here,” Forthman said.
Additionally, Conley said that students take advantage of the Kroger app, which offers discounts and sometimes free products. One student told Conley they saved $10 using the app. Kroger also offers specialty products in the organic and gluten and dairy free sections that surrounding grocery stores do not offer.
“As someone who has a food allergy, Kroger has always provided lots and lots of options for me,” junior Darby Mohon said. “Kroger has smaller quantities of things, but oftentimes has more and better selections with higher quality ingredients.”
Mohon is a resident assistant in Sears Hall, and she placed the petition in the lobby of her dorm. She said she advised her residents to shop at Kroger.
“They’re half and half,” Mohon said. “Half of them think Kroger is sketchy, and half of them have Kroger at home and love it.”
Though she is not surprised that Kroger is closing when she considers the economic standpoint, Mohon said she is “deeply heartbroken.”
Forthman said he does not believe the petitions will be enough to stop Kroger’s closing. He said that the climate has changed in grocery stores and consumers now prefer to order online.