Historic Westside Village Publix To Close, Residents Not Happy

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VIA: Creative Loafing Atlanta

If you live in Virginia-Highland or Midtown, it’s easy to take your grocery store for granted.

You’ve got Trader Joe’s on Monroe Drive. Whole Foods is across the street from City Hall East. Don’t want to go to the Publix on Ponce de Leon Avenue? You can visit the grocer’s other location at North Avenue and Piedmont Drive.

But if you live in historically under-invested west and southwest Atlanta, a place to buy fresh fruit, milk, bread, or even toilet paper can be a luxury. One that Vine City, Washington Park and other west Atlanta neighborhoods residents — many of whom are seniors or lack reliable transportation to buy the daily necessities — fear they’re about to lose.

After seven and half years, the Publix on Martin Luther King Drive is scheduled to shut down. When exactly? Christmas Eve at 7 p.m.

“This is gonna change people’s lives,” said Councilman Ivory Young, who represents many of the neighborhoods who could potentially be impacted by the store’s closure. “You’ve got families and businesses who’ve moved in that area based on that grocery store.”

The store is located in the Historic Westside Village, a revitalization project by developer Russell New Urban Developement LLC that sits between James P. Brawley Boulevard and Joseph Lowery Boulevard.

The project promised a grocery store alongside retail and residential units for the historically overlooked and underinvested community where the majority of residents live below the poverty line.

According to the Atlanta Development Authority’s 2009 third quarter disclosure report, at least $2.1 million in public dollar incentives from the Westside Tax Allocation District have been allocated to the project. That district has funded projects ranging from the World of Coca-Cola near Centennial Olympic Park to the Gateway Center, a homeless support facility on Northside Drive.

A Publix spokeswoman contacted by CL says the company’s decision to close the West Side Village location comes down to economics and broken promises.

“The sales have failed to meet projections and goals,” she says. “And the development that was originally promised in the original lease has not come to fruition.”

Part of Publix’s decision to open a store in the area, the spokeswoman said, was based on a lease agreement with Russell New Urban Development LLC, the development arm of well-known Atlanta builder H. J. Russell and Company. The firm planned to build “significant retail and residential units” in the surrounding area. But residents and Publix say that mixed-use development has stalled.

In the seven and a half years Publix has operated in West Side Village, the company spokeswoman said, it’s had discussions with the developer about the progress but to no avail. CL’s attempts to reach Russell New Urban were unsuccessful.

“We’ve served the community and offered a great shopping experience and goals just have not been met,” the spokeswoman said. “It is something we have to do as a business. It’s a business decision to close the store to be responsible.”

Now residents are concerned about what happens next. To the impacted employees, surrounding communities and the grocery store that’s been a godsend for a part of town that’s historically had to travel long distances for quality food. While convenience stores abound in the nearby neighborhoods, they lack the supply and choice of goods one can find at the Publix location.

“We have no place to go but Publix,” said resident Nyasa Waikwa on Tuesday as he walked home from the store. “It’s the only real grocery store in the neighborhood. If they close it will really mess up the neighborhood.”

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