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Jesse Jackson: ‘Expand’ the Kroger boycott

CLOSEJesse Jackson: 'Expand' the Kroger boycott

On a visit to Cincinnati Tuesday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson explained why he’s calling for a boycott of Kroger Co. stores. The Enquirer/Kareem Elgazzar

The Rev. Jesse Jackson told The Enquirer Tuesday he wants to “expand” the boycott he called against Cincinnati-based Kroger to protest store closures in minority communities.

Jackson also said he wasn’t sure if he believed Kroger’s claims that a Walnut Hills store and others around the country were unprofitable before they were closed last year.

“We will expand the boycott,” Jackson told The Enquirer, saying various Kroger stores have been picketed, including stores in Georgia and Kroger-owned Fred Meyer stores in the West.

Jackson chided Kroger for building upscale stores in suburbs at the same time it is pulling the plug on others. He also criticized Kroger for sometimes preserving market share by not relinquishing closed stores. 

Look at the attention suburban stores are getting… with wine and services,” Jackson said. “(These closed stores)… someone could make these profitable.”

Beyond additional demonstrations, Jackson was vague on specific actions to be taken against Kroger, which permanently closed 41 stores last year out of its nearly 2,800 locations.

Kroger officials were vague too, hesitant to escalate the impasse. They met Tuesday with Jackson at its Downtown headquarters amid protesters. 

Kroger spokeswoman Kristal Howard said the company was “open to further conversation and dialogue.” She added “senior leadership” will meet protesters over store closures. She declined to provide a timeframe for the discussions.

Kroger said the Walnut Hills store in Cincinnati hadn’t been profitable in more than two decades. The company similarly said it lost nearly $5 million in three years before recently closing stores in Memphis that sparked Jackson’s involvement.

Jackson was skeptical of Kroger’s profitability argument, noting its $1.9 billion profit on sales of $123 billion last year. He said minority communities suffer when local consumers lose access to groceries.

“I’m not sure it’s true,” Jackson said in front of the empty store in Walnut Hills. “Clearly, if you look around there are people here who eat and buy groceries. Is it a management issue or a consumer issue? People are certainly consuming.”

The civil rights leader made his comments during a busy day in Cincinnati where he attended a breakfast, met with Kroger officials, visited a school and spoke to The Enquirer’s Editorial Board.

CLOSEJesse Jackson: 'Expand' the Kroger boycott

“I’m not sure it’s true,” Jackson said responding to a question about Kroger’s profit concerns.

Jackson called for a boycott last week against Kroger in response to the grocer closing stores in Memphis and other communities that had served minority communities, including Walnut Hills in Cincinnati.

“Kroger in the heart of the black community pulled out – it created a food desert,” Jackson told The Enquirer on Monday. “It has a negative impact on the community. “

The world’s third-largest retailer behind Walmart and Costco, Kroger has been threatened with boycotts by numerous parties.

In recent years, both pro- and anti-gun control advocates have urged shoppers to take their business elsewhere. The company has also been targeted by animal rights and fair wages groups.

On Monday, Kroger cited its industries’ slim profits and said it must close failing stores to sustain its business. The company added it remained “always open to suggestions and dialogue” and pledged to be “an active community citizen.”

Kroger closed the Walnut Hills store at 954 E. McMillan St. store last spring after 34 years of operation. The store hadn’t turned a profit in two decades and was projected to lose another $900,000 in 2017.

The Walnut Hills closure coincided with the reopening of an expanded Kroger Marketplace store in Corryville 1.3 miles away.

Next year, Kroger also plans to close its Over-the-Rhine store at 1420 Vine St. when it opens its Downtown store at East Court and Walnut streets.

Kroger has also retooled its spending on stores as digital competition heated up for supermarkets with Amazon moving into the sector with its takeover last year of Whole Foods.

CLOSEJesse Jackson: 'Expand' the Kroger boycott

Civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson with Enquirer Opinion Editor Cindi Andrews discussing recent voting irregularities in Hamilton County and the upcoming presidential election.

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