As Louisville’s grocery industry shifts, bare shelves at the Highlands ValuMarket aren’t as ominous as they appear

Empty shelves 1
5:15 p.m. Tuesday, ValuMarket in the Highlands.

By Jim Hopkins
Boulevard Publisher

Updated at 3:15 p.m.

The ValuMarket at Mid-City Mall on Bardstown Road is a Highlands mainstay and one of only three traditional supermarkets in one of the city’s most affluent, foodie-centric neighborhoods. So, it’s been unsettling to see the shelves looking increasingly bare in recent days, with more discount tags than usual.

But James Neumann, whose family owns the small chain, has just assured me the store is simply being reorganized to create more aisle space around the perimeter so it’s easier to navigate with shopping carts, a redesign coming to ValuMarket’s three other locations.

ValuMarket logoAt my suggestion, Neumann said he would ask the store to post signs telling customers what’s going on.

ValuMarket’s forlorn looks come less than two months after the Neumanns announced plans to shutter the Hurstbourne Plaza outlet on Hurstbourne Parkway at Shelbyville Road. The chain gave up the lease when the shopping center’s owners decided to redevelop the site without a grocery store, according to The Courier-Journal. The Neumanns also cited “tightening economics and a shift in local shopping habits.” The Hurstbourne store, there since 1982, had been on a year-to-year lease since the 2008 financial crisis.

Supermarket profit margins are notoriously razor-thin — 1.5%, according to the FMI trade group — and shifting competition only adds pressure. Costco is opening a mammoth warehouse store near the end of this month in the 3400 block of Bardstown Road just south of the Watterson Expressway. The $300 million Omni Hotel project downtown will include a grocery store when it opens in spring 2018. Developer Kevin Cogan is planning a huge hotel-apartment complex at Grinstead and Lexington roads, with 50,000 square feet of retail space; it’s still in the very early planning stage.

Fresh ThymeFresh Thyme is already planning a second location as an anchor tenant in the proposed Bardstown Pavilion center in Fern Creek, a project city planners are reviewing; the Chicago-based chain opened its first store last spring in St. Matthews on Shelbyville Road. On the other hand, the Kroger-occupied property in SoBro was recently put up for sale, raising questions about the store’s future. And it’s anyone’s guess whether Amazon Fresh grocery delivery will ever come to the area.

In the Highlands, ValuMarket’s other chief general merchandising competitors are two Krogers, one on Goss Avenue, the other on Bardstown Road near Taylorsville Road. To be sure, there’s a Rainbow Blossom natural foods store at Gardiner Lane Shopping Center. But you won’t find Tide detergent, Kellogg’s cornflakes, and other popular consumer basics there. And Rainbow’s prices are out of reach for many young and elderly shoppers on a budget.

Winn-Dixie store
Winn-Dixie soon after mall opened in early 1960s.

ValuMarket is at least the third supermarket at the nearly 60-year-old Mid-City Mall, which this year completed a $1 million renovation of the facade that took far longer than planned, hurting tenants during the all-important holiday shopping period.

It’s unclear when the Highlands store opened, although it appears to be around 2005. The previous tenant, Buehler’s Market, lasted a year after it replaced a Winn-Dixie that closed when that chain pulled out of the Louisville market in 2004, according to Wikipedia.

After the Hurstbourne store shuttered, ValuMarket was left with just four other locations: Mount Washington; Outer Loop Plaza; Iroquois Manor and the Highlands. A sister store, First Choice Market, serves West Louisville on Wilson Avenue in Park DuValle. ValuMarket employed 450 workers when the Hurstbourne store closing was announced; about a third of them were full-time. The Hurstbourne store employed 67, according to the CJ.

Mid-City tenants took a financial hit when the mall’s renovation dragged on after asbestos was discovered in the roof, delaying completion until past the holidays. “It’s been a disaster to my tenants,” majority owner Sandy Metts told Louisville Magazine in the June issue. Metts, whose family bought the Bardstown Road property in 1976, had to reduce rent, and plans for renovating the Baxter Street side were put on are hold.

Empty shelves 2
Employees say ValuMarket’s empty shelves are due to a store redesign underway.

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