The atmosphere inside the Hannibal Kroger grocery store in the final hours of Thursday morning was business as usual.
But a buzz of discussion and visible emotion was hard to pass up.
The Kroger Co. announced Thursday morning that it will close the Hannibal and Louisiana, Mo. stores Saturday, Oct. 27.
"It's essentially an economic decision and that (Hannibal) store has struggled for a number of years. We tried everything we could think of in terms of operations and merchandising. We even tried a discount program recently trying to bribe up the customer counts and see if we could pull some customer business back into both Hannibal and Louisiana," John Elliott, Kroger spokesman, said from on his cell phone as he drove in Southern Indiana Thursday morning. "We were trying to pull back into the store and it didn't work."
Hannibal's Kroger store employs two salaried in management, 27-full time employees and 21 part-time hourly employees. In Louisiana, there is one salaried manager, 25 full time employees and 26 part-time employees.
"Hannibal not having another store close enough — unfortunately there really aren't any transfer opportunities to other stores. The choices will be retirement, if eligible, and/or severance," Elliott said.
Louisiana employees will have the opportunity to transfer to the Kroger grocery store in Troy, Mo. located about 45 minutes away.
The news was a surprise to Kroger shoppers.
"Kroger's has the best meat in town. It's the only place I'll buy my meat. I didn't know they were going to close my Kroger's. I hope something comes in and puts these folks back to work," customer Pat Urbeck said.
"We've been coming here for years and I don't like no other store," customer Virginia Bruner added. "I guess I won't get to go no more. We won't get to shop now in Hannibal, we'll have to go somewhere else."
But some refused to believe that the longtime Hannibal grocery store was closing its doors for good.
"I doubt that's actually going to happen. This ain't the first time that they've said that. I've lived around this area for 23 years, this ain't the first time," Anthony Fries said unloading his groceries. He said there've been rumors for the last 10 years that hinted at Kroger's closing. "This is one of the most common places that everyone goes."
Shana Anderson, who was shopping with Fries, doesn't believe the announcement either.
"It's not going to happen. Corporate can say whatever they want, this store is not going anywhere. This store employs quite a few people that live around here, it's one of the few places that they know they can get a job and keep a job," she said. "Why would they shut it down? It's pointless, it's stupid."
Page 2 of 2 - Some of the blame from customers came from the other grocery stores in Hannibal.
I'm pretty sure the overall competitive climate did pay into it, Elliott said. "We just could not raise customer count and results of revenue enough. We don't make these decisions lightly."
Elliott also said the attempt to keep the Hannibal and Louisiana stores open was a "multi-year trip we just couldn't turn around."
Inside one employee at the deli counter said, "It is what it is."
Another employee, a cashier, couldn't help but sob as she checked customers out of the store. Her eyes were red and swollen from tears.
Elliott said the announcement was made to store employees at 9 a.m. (the e-mailed press release was received by the Courier-Post at 8:46 a.m.) with human resources representatives on hand to speak with each individual employee.
"We're going to sit down with each person and do our best to take care of each one. While we're announcing it to them as a group, we'll switch gears a little bit and send some extra people out just to help the store leadership," Elliott said. "The people side of things are always the most important decision for us. Kroger's has always been a people-oriented company and these are the hardest decisions we make. We're very mindful of how long Kroger has been in that (Hannibal) community."
According to another cashier, employees with three or more years of service will be given severance. The employee also noted about three couples are employed at the Hannibal Kroger's store.
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