By Michael Campbell, News Editor
VIRGINIA – This summer will mark the end of a short, but notable, era in Central Virginia’s grocery history as Martin’s Food Stores will close their remaining stores over the course of this summer following its parent company’s merger with Food Lion’s parent, Delhaize Group.
According to local media reports, Martin’s Food Stores will close their final nine stores in Central Virginia and Williamsburg in two waves across July and August.
On July 10, four stores in Chesterfield, Richmond, and Williamsburg will make their final transactions, with the remaining five locations, including Chester’s Bermuda Square store along Jefferson Davis Highway, this region’s closest Martin’s location, closing on August 2.
“We want to thank our associates for their hard work and dedication over the years, and we are grateful for the loyalty of our many customers,” store president Tom Lenkevich said in a statement to Richmond television station NBC12 News.
The closure of the remaining nine locations ends what has been a period of uncertainty that began in 2015 following the proposed merger of Martin’s parent company Royal Ahold and Delhaize Group, the parent company of fellow Richmond and Tri-Cities grocer Food Lion.
During their talks prior to the deal’s eventual approval, a number of stores were required to be divested, or sold to another entity, by both sides, which included a majority of the same stores that Ahold purchased from Ukrop’s in 2009, save those that were closed during that time due to underperformance or expiring leases.
At that time, Christopher Brand, Ahold’s External Communications and Public Affairs Lead, told The Prince George Journal that the sale was being conducted to “ensure is there is no one company that can have market dominance.”
The fate of Martin’s in the Richmond market came to a head in the summer of 2016 as Florida grocery chain Publix announced their plans to purchase ten of the nearly 20 stores Martin’s was trying to sell, which served as a unique way to continue their Virginia expansion after Publix had already announced plans to open stores in Hanover County and southwestern Virginia.
As the fall of 2016 transitioned into the winter and spring of 2017, crews worked to remove the familiar red lettering that adorned the outside of Martin’s stores as work to transform them into Publix stores got underway, which includes the former Martin’s store in Colonial Heights in Colonial Square along the Boulevard business corridor.
While the future of ten locations was known, the remaining nine stores that were not purchased remained in limbo as Martin’s officials confirmed to media following the sale of the ten stores to Publix that the remaining locations would continue to operate as normal with the hope that a buyer could come in and purchase those stores.
Speaking with local media, Lenkevich noted the impact the news of an impending closure has on employees.
“Throughout this difficult process, our top concern has been to take care of our associates and treat them fairly and with respect,” he remarked. “We know our associates’ continued dedication to our customers will provide excellent service in the coming weeks.”
The Central Virginia area has become a melting pot of retail grocery options for shoppers over the past 20 years, as stores like Food Lion and Walmart, through its successful venture into grocery, expanded their footprint across the region during the 1990s.
Entering the 2000s, Kroger’s entry into the grocery game expanded food and produce options for shoppers, with Food Lion, Ukrop’s, Walmart, and others all vying for Virginians’ grocery dollars. Later, the growth of discount stores into grocery sales, like Dollar Tree and Dollar General, served to add additional value for consumers while increasing competition between the stores around the state.
Into the 2010s, even with the exit of well-known grocer Winn-Dixie, the region’s grocery game continued to diversify as Target renovated their Virginia stores to include grocery options while new faces entered the market with the expansion of well-known and highly respected grocer Wegmans southward into Short Pump and Chesterfield and international chains ALDI and Lidl’s growth across the state, with both stores opening new stores across the region and ALDI opening a new distribution center and regional headquarters in Dinwiddie.
As the store closures loomed and eventually began to roll out, many of those same stores who competed with Martin’s hosted job fairs to help those associates impacted to get back on their feet and make the transition between jobs easier.
Lenkevich said Martin’s is also “making a best in class commitment to take care of our people with a strong severance package.”
As the lights on Martin’s red signage is slated to go dark in a matter of weeks and signage for Publix alerting locals that their store will be opening soon stands tall outside shopping centers around the state, officials with Publix are not ready to say when the stores will open, but they did say they are going to host job fairs closer to those grand opening dates and encouraged impacted Martin’s employees to apply for those openings.
Hiring for the Publix stores is scheduled to take place “approximately 14 weeks prior to store openings,” officials with the grocer said at the time of the store purchases last year.