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Shoppers eager to explore new Kroger
kroger ribbon cut 2
Led by Rincon Mayor Ken Lee, local officials cut the ribbon on the 123,000 square foot Kroger Marketplace, which held its grand opening last Wednesday. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

With a wine steward, a sushi chef, a grilling station and yes, a Starbucks, waiting inside, shoppers waiting eagerly for the opening of the new Rincon Kroger Marketplace gave their approvals.

Kroger opened the 123,000 square foot store last Wednesday, with customers already filing through before the 7 a.m. official start.

“I think it’s beautiful,” said Mitzi Moore. “I’m overwhelmed. It’s awesome.”

Said George Moore: “It is nice.”

Aside from the readily-available sushi, new deli and bakery section, and Starbucks, the Kroger Marketplace also has hot and cold chef-prepared meals, free WiFi for shoppers, Baby World, home décor and household merchandise, a drive-through pharmacy and coming today, ClickList. ClickList enables shoppers to submit a grocery list, which Kroger will put together and bring to their car for pickup the next day.

“It’s a lot more than what I expected,” said Dorothy Smith.

Bruce Lucia, the president of Kroger’s Atlanta division, said the store is state of the art.

“I’m even more blown away when I walk into it,” he said.

The new Kroger stocks 103,000 items, while its former home, which was 44,000 square feet, stocked 40,000 items. There are 24,000 grocery items, 70,000 drug, home and apparel products, 1,500 varieties of meat and seafood, 1,000 varieties of produce and floral items, 850 varieties in the deli-bakery department, 6,000 varieties of natural food, 500 cheeses from all over the world and 3,000 varieties of beer and wine.

“There is a lot to choose from,” Lucia said. “It is very, very impressive. The sushi department is pretty impressive.”

Ken Lee, the Rincon mayor who retired from Kroger two years ago, said the new Marketplace shows the company’s commitment to the area.

“This is Kroger’s most modern facility, largest facility,” he said. “We talk about in the rural areas we don’t have opportunities like that but we do now.”

Wendall Kessler, the Effingham County commission chairman, said he remembered when the first grocery store in the area was built.

“That was a big deal,” he said. “Everyone came to the Red and White. It was a big deal. It was nothing like what you see behind me today. This is a day to celebrate. We’ve come a long way since that first grocery store down the street.”

Kroger opened its first Rincon store in May 1987, which was an M&M grocery store at the time. That store was 25,000 square feet and was across the street from the current Marketplace. In August 2000, Kroger moved into an old Winn-Dixie store and occupied that building until last week.

Lee noted there were a lot of changes in the Rincon market in 1996 as Kroger suddenly had three new competitors.

“But Kroger stayed committed,” he said. “They saw something here they felt they could build on.”

When one of the competitors pulled out in 2000, it opened the door for Kroger to move into a larger store.

“When I first started, the stores were 27,000 square feet,” Lucia said. “Now they range from 90,000 to 123,000.”

Store manager Tom Coburn has had the tasks of getting the new store ready and getting the old store shut down. The last traces of the Kroger name have been removed from the location on Highway 21 South just off Silverwood.

“There are challenges to that,” he said. “But at Kroger, we’re really good at what we do on that. We have an awesome team that just gets the job done. You can’t ask for a better team. It’s never easy to close down a store that’s been there a long time. No one is more excited than I am. This team we have is ready to serve you all. They have done a remarkable job getting ready.”

Shoppers have asked Coburn for months how soon the new Marketplace would open, and he noticed how quickly some of the amenities have drawn a crowd.

“But people have been really excited watching the building go up from the ground,” he said. “It’s been a fun talking point. It’s been really exciting. Starbucks has been packed.”

Coburn also praised how well done the new Marketplace is.

“It’s turned out better,” he said. “With this one, they went all out. The layout is much more user friendly. You can get around the store a lot easier. I think it’s the best one we’ve done.”

The store is the sixth Marketplace Kroger has opened, and Atlanta Division president Bruce Lucia said more are in the offing. The ClickList feature for the Rincon location is expected to start today.

“The customers will set a time they want to pick it up, and we’ll come out with their groceries, “ Lucia said. “They won’t have to come into the store.

“But this store is so beautiful, everyone is going to want to come into the store.”