Life Unfolds in the Grocery Store

Mr. David B. Dillon
Chairman and CEO
The Kroger Corporation08-07-13-margaret.gif
Cincinnati, Ohio

Dear Mr. Dillon:

Congratulations to the Kroger Corporation on its recent purchase of Harris Teeter, North Carolina’s home-grown chain of more than 200 regional grocery stores in which many of us have lived out our lives. I have read with great interest several news accounts of Kroger’s recent acquisition and breathed heartfelt sighs of relief when you and other Kroger brass promised not to change a thing. I and countless other devoted VIC card customers are taking you at your word but keeping our fingers crossed anyway. We have, after all, seen corporate buyouts before.

I was a Harris Teeter shopper before it was Harris Teeter. I packed up my newly minted North Carolina Driver’s License to scoot to the Big M, Harris Teeter’s predecessor, to pick up some item my mother needed for dinner, and it has just continued from there. During the saddest Christmas season our family ever had, my sister and I went to Harris Teeter on Christmas eve and bought one of the few remaining Christmas trees for $2, a tree so big we struggled to get it home and even more to get it in the house. It was so big we had to wire it to a window frame and it fell over anyway. One of the few laughs that dismal holiday season was that we were the only people stupid enough to buy a tree that big, no matter what a bargain it was.

Then came my own family, children who twisted around in their cart seats to take items off shelves when I was not looking and later zoomed along the aisles despite my pleas for calm. Harris Teeter wisely dealt with the loose children issue by providing carts with steering wheels for them to “drive” and “shopper in training” carts for them to push. There are also snacks to sample for both children and more mature shoppers, a hit with everyone.

Over the years in the grocery, one of my cousins refers to as “store to the stars,” I have shared the happy news of engagements, pregnancies, college acceptances with friends and grieved with them over terrifying medical diagnoses, deaths of loved ones, all manner of family heartbreaks. I have talked politics, recipes, exercise classes, budding romances and every other conceivable topic and managed — most of the time — to bring home what the Dicksons were having for dinner.

Back in the go-go days before the Great Recession descended, my VIC card number was awarded a Caribbean cruise, which my husband and brother-in-law enjoyed tremendously since I was unable to go. I know that VIC cards are marketing and tracking tools, but I still love checking my Harris Teeter receipt to see how much I save each visit and how much so far each year.

I admit to straying from time to time. There have been forays into various Food Lions and even Krogers when we had them, both the one on McPherson Church and the one on Hope Mills Road. But my car always finds its way back to the Harris Teeter parking lot, and not just because it is the most convenient grocery store to chez Dickson. It is also the grocery whose employees wear name tags with their year of employment on them, many of whom have been there so long, name tags are no longer necessary. I love it that Harris Teeter hires people with obvious physical and/or mental disabilities, a blessing for them, their families and those of us who come to know them.

Then, of course, there are the groceries themselves. Harris Teeter, also known in some circles as simply The Teeter, boasts a glorious produce section offering us both staple veggies like potatoes, spinach, apples and oranges and the sorts of exotic goodies this native North Carolinian never imagined when I first crossed the Big M’s threshold — bok choy, for example. And, my goodness — the seafood! It comes from North Carolina’s long coast and from every other corner of the world. Harris Teeter thoughtfully tells shoppers exactly what country, whether it is farm-raised or wild-caught and offers recipes for how to cook it.

I have never considered writing a fan letter to a grocery store, but that seems to be what I am doing. Harris Teeter is almost as woven into my life (and those of many other North Carolinians) as our jobs and our families. Most of us are perfectly happy with the status quo.

So, dear Mr. Dillon, as you and your colleagues cope with that pesky lawsuit from disgruntled Harris Teeter shareholders and attempt to absorb all the Harris Teeter stores into the largest grocery chain in our nation, please remember those of us down here in the Southeast. We know Kroger execs in Ohio might find us a tad quirky in our devotion to the grocery store we grew up with, but please ease us into the change we know is inevitable.

Yours very sincerely,
Margaret H. Dickson

Photo: For many, Harris Teeter is more than a grocery store. It is a place where lives unfold.

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