Cincinnati’s urban Kroger stores face a unique design opportunity

It is no secret to Cincinnati residents that less than four blocks away from the Kroger world headquarters sits one of the most neglected stores in the city, if not the region. The Kroger store at the 1400 block of Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine has long sat forgotten while the rest of the urban core continues to gain steam, revitalize and grow.

Less than a 10 minute drive away sits Vine Street’s newest sister store, the 128,000 square foot store built as a new development off highway 471 in Newport, Kentucky. The darling of big box grocery stores houses a Starbucks, a jewelry store, full clinic and pharmacy, furniture selection, and expansive grocery section including natural foods and a sushi station.

There is something of stigma surrounding the Vine Street store that hangs over the place, encouraging unfamiliar potential customers to avoid it at all costs. I set out on a mission to break down the rumors and cut through to the core differences and to hypothesize how the Kroger Company can capitalize on their greatest and most under-utilized asset.

Rumor has it that the company marks up its prices in the center city, forcing poor residents and dumb yuppies to pay more than their suburban counterparts. This is not true. From California Pizza Kitchen ($5.79) to Jif Creamy Peanut Butter ($2.40) to Roma tomatoes ($1.19 per lb), the price point at the two Krogers is identical.

Expiration Dates:
After only one visit, it is hard to say whether or not the company consistently ships food that will expire sooner to their urban location. Multiple visits will confirm the pattern. At this time, comparing eggs, milk, produce and meat, the expiration dates for the Newport store were consistently further out than Vine Street’s. The VSK had expiration dates on milk of 6/12-6/17, and eggs from 6/7 to 6/24. Newport, in comparison, dated expired milk at 6/20-6/22, and eggs at 6/24-6/30. Every bagged green at 1400 Vine (including spring mix, spinach, kale, and salad mix) was on manager’s special – preparing to go bad with 6/6 expiration dates. The expansive selection of bagged greens in Kentucky (only 3 bags of which were of collard/kale greens) expired from 6/7-6/14.

However, the rest of the produce section was filled with vibrant, ripe fruits and veggies that one could find just as easily at Findlay Market. Red strawberries, taut and plump cucumbers, pears, peaches, fresh smelling blueberries and leafy (unpackaged) greens. In fact, the tomatoes at Vine Street were in better shape than the ones at Newport (see the pictures above)

Compare and Contrast: Over-the-Rhine [LEFT] and Newport [RIGHT] stores.

The stark difference in size and footprint of the two stores obviously allows for a great disparity in food selection. The question that remains: is the food that IS available in the smaller footprinted store as good a quality as the bigger store? The answer: yes and no.

The Vine Street Kroger has a range and variety of items for sale – one can purchase cat food and cream cheese; pomegranate juice and pancake mix; the necessities are all there- and at the same price as any other Kroger in the city. Is there a need for a jewelry store, cheesemonger, or 15 types of lint rollers in a smaller market? Of course not. Other successful urban stores carry only one or two styles of an item in order to maximize room for a wider variety of merchandise.

A big disappointment I encountered was in the meat aisle. Instead of a traditional deli there is a “hot counter” with fried chicken and other breaded delicacies shoved under a heat lamp, approximately 4.5 feet wide. The fresh meat section is very limited.

When deciding between chicken at Vine Street I was presented with two options: one style of Tyson all natural chicken thighs (no breast meat or tenderloin) at 3.99 per lb, and a 10 lb bag of cheap skin-on chicken drumsticks for 6 dollars with an expiration date of 6/14. I have been told that there is usually Kroger brand skinless chicken breast – they may have been out today. Obviously the selection at Newport Kroger is much wider.

The biggest hurdle that faces the Vine Street Kroger is its outdated and dingy design. The store is poorly lit, with outdated signage, low ceilings, and worn tile on the floor. The physical layout of the food selection is not well thought out. Entering the store puts the shopper smack in the middle of the processed bread and Hostess snack aisle. Conventional healthy shopping wisdom that dictates shopping around the perimeter of the store- it does not work in this case, as Aisle One is candy and sugary cereals.

The Newport Kroger, in sharp contrast, has stained concrete floors, tall ceilings, modern signage, and skylights that bring daylighting into the expansive space. Much attention and detail has been put into the displays, with vignettes on the wall indicating dairy, produce, bread, and meat sections.

What’s the solution?
The Kroger company is at a crossroads. They are the biggest grocery chain in the nation, yet are allowing a key future growth opportunity to slip out from under them: the urban market. Stores like Aldi, Target, Safeway and Whole Foods have already established urban stores with smaller footprints and a more limited selection that are clean, well designed, and offer an attractive selection for urban residents.

Kroger should seize this opportunity to place pride in their most central store. In this formally trained interior designer’s opinion, the best thing that Kroger could do would be to renovate the Vine Street store as a flagship model for urban Kroger markets across the country in other major downtown districts, and to open a second location in the Banks development or Tower Place Mall.

Reduce the barrier to the street by modifying the parking lot – behind the building or eliminating it all together. Bring the same successful elements from the Newport store into the smaller design – modern colors, skylights, ample lighting, polished concrete floors, easy to read and well designed signage, and improve the quality (and shelf life) of the selection that is available.

Questions arise about improving the neighborhood – will a nicer store price current residents out? It’s already been established that the price points of both the newest and most run-down Kroger in the region are identical. The only difference is the physical store itself. Improving the most central and urban store will only attract more shoppers to the store, resulting in gained revenue. No matter one’s skin color, annual income, or place of residence, affordable, quality food that is readily accessible in the neighborhood is something everyone deserves.

I encourage Over-the-Rhine residents to utilize the Vine Street Kroger for their grocery needs in addition to gems like Findlay Market. The staff there is incredibly friendly and welcoming, and if we want the status quo to change, we need to show the company that our pocketbooks are willing to support something new.

  • Why shop at kroger when you can get all the groceries you need and more at findlay market? From the crowds there this weekend I can tell I’m not the only one that thinks that way.

  • Findlay Market is great as long as you’re there before 6pm. I’m certainly not saying to NOT shop at Findlay, but when it’s 8pm and I’m out of toilet paper (something they don’t carry at Findlay) or forgot a gallon of milk for my recipe, I want to be able to run down the street and pick it up at Kroger, not have to get in my car and drive 3 miles.

  • I wonder if being so close to Findlay Market has anything to do with the quality of its produce/deli meat, etc. Most OTR residents pick up their meat and produce from Findlay anyway, right?

  • Tania

    Yeah, I don’t shop at Kroger for this reason. My options are this Vine St. Location or the crudy one across from UC on Vine. I’d rather take a drive to Whole Foods or even Meijer where I can get better selections, cheaper prices and significantly better conditions. When there is s**t peeling off the floor, it’s psychosomatic – you don’t assume the lettuce in your hand is fresh at all.

  • Ben

    @Paige Some people like to not blow their entire paycheck on groceries.

  • It’s frustrating to me that they would take this view. You have Target and Meijer right next to each other; Bigg’s and Aldi on the same block, but they don’t lower the quality of their merch because there’s a competitor.

    Tania, I can’t speak to the difference in price between Kroger and other grocers, but in terms of Kroger to Kroger, the price points are identical.

    The produce selection that I saw at Vine Street yesterday was varied and mostly fresh (with the exception of the bagged greens.)

    The important takeaway for me was that the only way to really make a change is to show the company we support the store. Talk to the managers, ask if they can carry something they don’t seem to have. We have to get the attention of the company in order to make a change.

  • Dave

    I guess I should comment since I work at Kroger GO (world hq) there at Vine and Central. I’m not really in a position to make any changes in the sense that you just talked about. Also, you should know that here at Kroger GO, we deal with national things from creating commericals for Fred Meyer stores in Oregon to printing employee manuals for every Kroger Gas Station. The Krogers in Cincinnati, Dayton and NKY are managed out of the Cincinnati Region office located near Tri-County Mall.

  • @Jenny K: true, but the Corryville Kroger is less than a mile away. and honestly, i don’t know if a redesign of the store is going to make walking to Vine after dark any safer.

  • Ben

    I think a store redesign would make the area a lot safer in the long run. Investment in the area would bring about more foot traffic and more development which would in turn make the area safer.

  • Interesting insight, Dave. Thanks for the comment. Who’s in charge of store design and layout?

  • and who should we contact to petition for changes to be made at the Regional offices? I’m sure readers would be willing to email and show support for changes at this (and other urban) location.

  • Tania


    It is a matter of taste too – the things I buy at Whole Foods, Meijer are cheaper than at Kroger. For most of my items, that’s the kicker. Whole Foods and Meijer both have more “shaper looking” produce, if you catch my drift. So does Findlay – just a few blocks away. Can’t say I’d rather shop in a dirty, dingy store for fresh, thriving produce when I can walk 3 blocks and pick up in a vibrant, warm ground-to-hand environment.

    I’d love to make a change but how much more obvious can you be when I’m sure many Kroger GO employees drive past that store daily? Or walk by it on their lunch? OTR deserves a much better supermarket than Kroger has punished them with. I do hope that image is changed as the community is developing AROUND that Kroger.

  • @Tania,

    that’s the whole point of the article. Kroger needs to wise up – how fantastic would it be if they took the opportunity to transform their dingy store into a clean, well designed and laid out, well lit store that carried fresh produce and stuff that wasn’t on the brink of expiration?

    People who passed it by before would start shopping there.

    My fear is that another grocery, like the aforementioned Whole Foods, Aldi, Bigg’s, Safeway, etc, is going to come into downtown and do it instead of Kroger. It would be a great thing for us either way, but the Kroger company is missing out on a huge opportunity right in front of their noses.

  • Dave


    I dont work in the design dept but I know here at GO we have basic examples of stores. For instance, what a store design should look like for a marketplace (like in Newport). But the regional offices tend to have final say, obviously. Being that I’ve only been to the Cincy Regional Office a few times, I don’t know exactly how it’s handled there. The best thing I can offer is to call the main number at 513/782-3300. That should take you to the receptionist there at Tri-County. She can probably point you in the right direction.

  • Interesting take on things but you got some facts wrong.

    Newport Kroger was NOT a greenfield development. There was a neighborhood there, it was demolished for the development.

    The Newport Kroger is NOT the closet Kroger to Vine St., the Bellevue Kroger is closer.

    I must say it’s nice to have a Kroger and Target I can bike to, and it will have more impact on my everyday life than a Casino ever will.

  • Paige

    @ben I find that for the most part the prices are right on par, if not lower than kroger. The things that will get you price wise are the specialty items, but that’s the same of any store. Granted I don’t eat a whole lot of convience food so that affects my bill.

    If you prefer kroger than by all means shop there. Findlay works for me.
    Also seeing as when I lived in kentucky they just demolished a kroger instead of rennovating it with like no notice, which was in really good condition, I don’t think they’d be willing to rennovate.

    I’d love to see more corner shops vs. big box shops downtown, somewhere were you could grab some toilet paper at 8 pm.

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    The Vine St. Kroger was renovated soon after the riot, in 2002 or 2003. The renovation did nothing about the 24-7 loitering that plagues the place even after the Sheriff’s patrols in 2006-07 ended the mile of lawless drug dealing that characterized Vine St. for 20 years.

    Kroger is in business to make money. Thousands of affluent residents need to move into the neighborhood before there is a market for the improvements we’re talking about.

  • thanks for the heads up, Robert. will change accordingly.

  • Dave

    oh and drive in on 7th street and park at plum and central so i’m not one of the GO people who pass the Vine Street Kroger

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    >My fear is that another grocery, like the aforementioned Whole Foods, Aldi, Bigg’s, Safeway, etc, is going to come into downtown and do it instead of Kroger.

    No, that’s not going to happen. Western-Southern and similar entities own every property in the basin where anything large could be built. If a deal is worked out behind the scenes, Kroger will pull strings at City Hall to prevent a building permit.

  • @Jake, the development trends in the neighborhood indicate that the number of affluent residents could continue to increase. One day Kroger could see a complete renovation of the store as a no-brainer to serve the upscale, urban neighborhood. In the meantime, they are right across the street from a brand-new, fully leased apartment building, and bordered on the south by rows of mostly full, upscale condo buildings on both sides of the street. Jenny is right, part of the bar to entry is the parking lot and poorly lit store. Perhaps some lighting changes and some simple cosmetic upgrades to could make the place more inviting.

  • They did a $1M remodel in 2003.
    At the time the president stated the store didn’t make a profit and just keeping it open was a point of pride for them.
    Kroger just doesn’t do small anymore.

  • Rob Jaques

    What they should do to expand store space would be to build out to the street on Vine. Then they could use the vacant parcels off Walnut behind the store for truck access for deliveries.

    What baffles me is that they complain that the store doesn’t receive enough patronage, but the overall design and layout of the store discourages people from shopping there. While many may say the market isn’t there to encourage shopping, as Eric just stated, the store is surrounded by new condos.

    BTW – It’s in the 1400 block of Vine St.

  • Bill Landeck

    Kroger has benefited from some very generous tax breaks from the City. They should step up to the plate now, and create a store people want to use. It may not provide an immediate return for them, but, it will most assuredly pay off as more folks move downtown.

  • Leisa

    @Jenny–Thanks so much for this article! I have often talked about the same thing. I have a couple thoughts:
    1) the closer expiration dates on “fresh” food at Vine St. may be because the demographic doesn’t buy those kinds of foods. Less people buying–Less turnover.
    2) you didn’t mention the fact that Vine St has almost 1/2 of an aisle dedicated to single-serving alcohol (malt liquor, etc). This encourages patrons to sit outside (or very nearby) and drink said alcohol, and maybe eat a snack, then throw all the trash on the ground. That partially explains why the parking lot is disgusting and feels scary.

    The thing is–the demographic in OTR is changing. Obviously, if you are in business you sell what people want to buy…and apparently the Vine St. demo historically has not wanted to buy much fresh produce or shampoo for Caucasian hair, and *has* wanted to buy lots of hot sauce, hostess cupcakes, and single-serving malt liquor and watered down vodka. I don’t think that is necessarily the case now…maybe a UC class could do another neighborhood study of those who shop at the Vine St Kroger, and those who WOULD if they carried certain items?

  • @Quim, you know the difference in the neighborhood between 2003 and now.

    It’s more of a statement, really – investing in the neighborhood, in the city, and establishing a new market model that can be rolled out across the nation. It has much bigger ramifications and will enable the company from being left behind as its competitors look ahead to creating their own urban markets.

  • @Leisa, it shouldn’t be a demographic thing, and it makes me sad that it is. Everyone deserves to have access to milk that isn’t going to spoil in two days. I purposefully avoided bringing up the parts of the store that seem to be designed with certain demographic in mind.

    Changing the layout, changing the quality, making it easier to reach for the 2% milk instead of purple drink, is only going to help the people that live in this neighborhood. It’s vitally important for all of us to have access to healthy food that’s affordable.

  • Jenny, thanks so much for a thoughtful article. I shop at this Kroger regularly and think it’s great for some items, adequate for others, and the proximity to Findlay and the chain drugstores downtown takes care of pretty much all my needs that aren’t met by Kroger.

    What I have noticed over the five years that I’ve lived here is that the store management seems really responsive to customers suggestions and purchases. For instance, they’ve started carrying a broader selection of juices, energy bars and other specific items because customers have requested them. When I see an expired item, I bring it up with the staff and hope that it’s removed. I’m pretty vigilant about this because I want them to know that customers are paying attention.

    The point about expiration dates is valid — if the items are purchased in a timely manner, they’re no longer available close to [or even past] expiration date. So, the most effective thing you can do if you want this store to serve you better is to shop there regularly for the things you want and need, and make suggestions for improving the selection.

    Leisa, this store has approximately a 15-inch wide section of the juice aisle that’s devoted to wines and watered-down booze, and then there is beer and malt liquor in a cooler. Even for a store its size, this isn’t a shocking use of space in my opinion.

  • @Jenny as much as I can’t argue with that sentiment in theory, in reality I think there’s more to address than accessibility and affordability. it’s one thing to make milk and fresh produce readily available, but it’s another thing to make it accessible.. just because you replace a hot deli counter with free range, grass-fed chicken and beef doesn’t mean people are more likely to buy it. why spend $5 on produce that can feed a couple people when you can spend $5 on a bucket of fried chicken that can feed a whole family? if we’re trying to address the lack of healthy options, there are larger issues that also need tackling – affordability (corn and wheat have lobbyists that can drive down the price of shitty hostess snack cakes…fresh carrots, not so much) and education. changing up the layout so it looks more like a Hyde Park Kroger may help but I don’t know if it’s necessarily going to radically change spending habits.

  • Bao

    Thanks for writing this article! I live directly across the street from that Kroger in Parvis, so I’m always there. I also shop at Findlay too, but like others, the hours aren’t always convenient for me. Overall, I’m pretty happy with it there.

    Things I like about it:
    – Convenience
    – Friendly workers
    – Not too crowded (most times)
    – Ease and speed of shopping there
    – They surprise me with some of their inventory (Sriracha and Coconut Milk – awesome!)

    What I don’t like:
    – Hours – even though it’s longer than Findlay’s hours, I wish they would close at 11pm M-S, and 9pm on Sunday. (But I can see that being a long shot away)
    – Selection of shampoo and other hair products
    – Lack of plain yogurt, and probiotics
    – Meat selection
    – Better beer selection
    – Cleaning supplies (can’t buy a dust pan with out buying a broom, and can’t buy a plunger without buying a toilet brush)

    I think it would be great if they could do a redesign of the store, but I’d be happy if they just carried a few more items. I was planning to email them a list of items that I’d like to see (plain yogurt, shampoo and other hair products. Do you know where I can send an email?

  • Liz

    I’ve lived in OTR for more than 3 years, but have been a patron of the VSK for more like 5-6. I have noticed subtle changes in the past few years, similar to the ones mentioned. And I have been pleased to see the selection diversify and the produce get more “fresh.” And this is simply an issue of supply & demand, in my mind. Obviously, if I were to drop in once a week to purchase fancy organic soda, it would move so quickly in their inventory that they would consider ordering an even larger supply to meet my demand. Same goes for fresh fruits and vegetables.

    Like folks said, Findlay Market is the obvious choice for produce, dairy, and meat. But not all vendors have extended hours and the Market is closed on Mondays. Also, if what I need is cornstarch, flour, or a quick bag of chips to take to a party, Kroger is the place to go. Options are good.

    I’ve often wondered if Kroger could have purchased the old Red Cheetah building and moved their grocery there, leaving a Pharmacy at the Vine St location. VLT Academy has since purchased that property, so it’s no longer an option. But it would have been the perfect location for a small grocer.

    The VSK is land-locked. That’s probably the biggest thing stopping any serious development.

    As to its overall design and safety issues, the design is terrible. When I take my son in the stroller to the store, we can’t even fit down two of the three checkout aisles. But, I don’t really think safety is much of an issue there, to be honest. The employees have always been super kind to me, there is always a police officer present, and if someone is unwilling to deal with people loitering in front/around the store, they should stay out of the city.

    (Pardon any mis-spelling, I’m typing on a phone…)

  • Eric

    I think the biggest thing we all need to remember is the fact that OTR continues to grow daily. Young, urban professionals and families continue to flock into OTR as they see the drastic and dynamic changes happening in the community; the revitalization of Vine, Main, Washington Park, etc. It only stands to reason that Kroger (or some grocer) should put in a new and improved urban market. As the population continues to grow, we deserve the convenience of a urban grocer; though Newport is only a 5-10min drive away, it would be nice to be able to walk to the store and pick up anything at any time of the day.

  • chuck

    Kroger is notorious for typical big-box behavior; abandoning its urban stores and creating superblock designs that wall off neighborhoods. Nice suburban hoods like Madeira and Mt Washington have suffered from superblock K-box designs. They are both less walkable and more drive-thru oriented since they got their big Kro-box makeovers.

    Kroger has a great opportunity to change course and make friends of their pedestrian customer base. Corryville is even more neglected than OTR, and all eyes will be on their remake during the next year. Another superblock problem is Walnut Hills – the blank wall created by that store is a scary part of the East McMillan blightscape.

  • Neil Clingerman

    This is what Kroger should strive for, this is a Jewel-Osco that opened up in the very urban Southport area of Lakeview in Chicago:×428.jpg

    I don’t think that location on Vine is the best either, if they could redevelop the parking lots between Pendleton and OTR proper that would be the best for getting a store that would be the right size, so long as its an urban design like the grocery above.

  • Neil Clingerman

    Not only that, but Kroger sadly pioneered the big box grocery store, its going to be hard for them to abandon that model. They should if they are going to continue to survive with young people favoring city living.

  • Great article and great discussion. Thanks to all who whole-heartedly support Findlay Market. I think there’s a place for both Kroger and Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine. Nice to see so many people who care about the neighborhood.

  • @Caitlin – I completely agree… and all of that is enough for another blog post!

  • Cletus

    Be happy that you don’t have to shop at a Kroger outside the Cincinnati area. The intown Krogers in Atlanta are filled with rotted food and surly employees.

  • Just a FWIW, there used to be an IGA across from Findlay Market.
    So – if you have the population, there’s plenty of room for improvements.

  • Schmiez

    1) Great artcile! almost 40 comments in 5 hours!

    2) As stated, Kroger is the #1 national grocer. But their roots are here in Cincy. The regional manager mentions the 2003 remodel, and the fact that its not profitable (or only slightly).

    But in this case, does it really matter? Many large retailers experiment with small stores, some do so for no other reason than fun and keeping ideas fresh. How do you scale a meat counter to a small store? What works in small stores that you cant figure out in big stores?

    Im sure there’s some interior designers who understand.

    I cant imagine a decent facelift, investment, and promotion of the closest location to corporate would do anything to seriously damage the bottom line.What did they lose in the Kenwood debacle? That didnt slow operations down.

    With all the residents now on Vine, and ever-expanding on the near-by streets, it seems like a no brainer.

  • Sean Gray

    I walk up to this Kroger about once a week and am generally impressed with what I am able to find there. Their assortment of goods will match the desires of the neighborhood and they are very responsive to requests. As for the produce, it simply does not turn over quick enough because of demand. I would love to see a remodel that removes the parking lot and expands the store to the street with big windows up front. I think the inside is fine, its the street presence that sucks.

    As for the selection of 40’s, I’m conflicted. People are going to buy these somewhere and I would rather it be at the Kroger than Circle A…

  • Kroger will be outplayed in Cincinnati’s urban core. They seem to have no interest in urban grocery stores virtually anywhere in the country. There are a dozen or more grocery chains beating Kroger on this and Kroger’s market share continues to grow. So in the conservative Cincinnati mantra, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    I would not be surprised if a grocery store opens up shop at The Banks. Some time ago I suggessted that The Banks would offer a great opportunity for Kroger to take a bold step into the urban grocery marketplace. They should open a flagship urban store there and put the other smaller chains on notice. Unfortunately I do not think this will ever happen. But I would love for all those Kroger executives reading this blog to prove me wrong.

  • Joe

    Does anybody know what the population threshold needed to have a small to medium sized grocery store? I’m assuming that it would be 5,000 to 10,000 for a small grocery store like the one found on Vine Street and significantly more for a full sized store like the one found in Newport. Not disputing that the population of the area is full of new condos and apartments and is moving in the right direction, but I think still the area does not have the population to make it profitable for an expansion. Look at the Corryville Kroger as an example of the tremendous economic base that is needed to prompt an expansion or even a remodeling. The Corryville store which I would assume would be very profitable is only now being expanded after years of being beyond capacity and is in the middle of one of the most vibrant areas of the city. Uptown has upwards of 30,000 students and a significant population of young professionals and college employees living in the area. Still it seemingly took forever for the Corryville Kroger to get an expansion.

    Has anyone seen Wal-mart’s pilot program for a small store concept of about 15,000 square feet? Wouldn’t it be something if a Wal-Mart Express was the first urban grocery store in the area? It has been reported in several business magazines that high ranking executives in Bentonville are excited about the opportunity of opening thousands of smaller concept stores and are currently setting up test stores in Chicago.

  • Joe

    Link for a New York Times story discussing the possibility of entering the New York and Chicago with smaller format stores,

  • Zack

    5,000 will not only support a medium sized store, it will support a very nice medium sized store if the loyalty to shop is there. This how IGA does so well in many more rural areas.

    I would not use the Coreyville Kroger as an example. yes there are 14,000 students (the others are commuters. and still others live in mt. adams, ky, etc…). But they are buyers of mostly staples, not watercrest, organic chicken, $8 salad dressing. Heck, most buy kroger brand over Kraft or Klenix or even P&G.

    And the Kroger off exit 6 got a facelift despite a perceived lower income clientele. So its not to say they ALWAYS drag their feet.

    Interesting concept for the Walmart’s, however its been done 20 times over in NYC. I wonder if the name alone would get customers through the door (or possibly keep them out). There is a large brand new target in Harlem that opened not too long ago. And theres a Kmart in one of the subway terminals.

  • J

    As an interesting side note, I saw a video where a Kroger executive was asked if they cared about the store in OTR. Apparently many think that they don’t care about that location. The executive fired back and said the store in OTR loses money every year, and that they keep it open at all is proof that they do care. Just another perspective.

  • Neil Clingerman

    That video can be found here: – I’ve set the link to go to that timestamp. According to this, Kroger wanted to build a downtown store but they wouldn’t reach a compromise with the city. I’d love to know what the issue was and what would be a good solution to make it work.

    On a side note, you should watch the doc too, even though its outdated it won a peabody, its good stuff.

  • Ian Stover

    I think it needs to be reiterated that Kroger is a business. A business that behind ad campaigns about caring for customers, cares only about how their customers spend money. Vine street is not an economically viable store. Period. It is there and will remain there because it is down the street from Kroger GO and without it there would be no grocery option downtown other than Findlay. Kroger is not, I repeat, is not going to sink money into a store that they lose money on already. Kroger is not adopting a big box mentality and abandoning their urban stores, they are simply trying to minimize their loses.

    About the selection at the different stores, each store caters to a different demographic. If you have ever been to the Newport store, you know the parking lot is always packed with people wanting and able to buy $20 dollar cheeses and organic rice milk ice cream. If you have ever been to the vine street store, there are very few people there amd they buy relatively nothing. The managers special status of the lettuce( realistically all the produce should be discounted) at the vine street store speaks as much about the store management as it does about the customers. They dont care about produce. At newport old lettuce would be an outrage but at vine street, as one previous commentator pointed out, there is an aisle devoted to malt liquor.

    If you really want to see something happen at the Vine Street store thousands of people need to move to OTR and if you want the store to offer the same quality as Newport these new OTR’s need to be middle class. There simply is not a high enough critical mass to justify what some of you are asking for. Im speaking realistically, the only people that care about what is being offered at vine street are the small group of YPs and other middle-class residents that have moved to OTR expecting more.

  • nicker66

    Great article and even better discussion. A few points:

    1. The larger stores have a better turnover of fresh items, so the expirations dates always seem to be better at the bigger stores. Based on my experiences, the Hyde Park Kroger (once the largest in the city) always has great expiration dates, while stores nearly half the size in Mariemont and Madeira are hit-and-miss when it comes to freshness. I always felt that since Hyde Park had many more shoppers, the fresh items were purchased more quickly.

    2. Kroger has a few boilerplate store designs (Fresh Fare, Marketplace, etc.) and the Vine St. location fits none of them, making it harder to push for an update.

    3. Corryville is about to be demolished and replaced with a shiny new store, so between Newport and the new Corryville store I’d say the regional office views those and close enough for OTR/CBD/Banks shoppers.

    4. The Vine St. store and the Walnut Hills store both are losers, so it is hard to justify upgrades or expansions. No amount of remodeling or expanding will bring profitability to them, just be glad they’re open. They truly are just a community service to the city where Kroger was founded.

    5. I know my last point might be a bit harsh, but based on my time in Chicago the “urban” Jewel Osco by me was so expensive that I would usually just borrow a car to drive to a store outside the city. If the Vine St. or Walnut Hills Kroger raised its prices to actually break even, people would be outraged. People often complained about the Clifton IGA’s prices and looked what happened to them.

  • Schmiez

    Clifton (or rather Ludlow) IGA closed because they couldnt afford the necessary maintenance on an aging building. What happened to them?

    The neighborhood cried out for them to reopen, and a well established manager of multiple IGA’s in the region is going to reopen it. Poor comparison.

    For the doubters; OTR used to have zero trendy bars or eating options. Yet Senate, Lackman, A Tavola, soon-to-be Bakersfield are open or will open. So an area that did not have the client-el now does, and does well. I’m failing to see how this formula doesnt work for VSK. Isnt a 200+ unit building going up on 13th (or 14th) street in the coming years? Will that be enough people?

    This is not the 36000 sqft newport Kroger. Its much smaller. And should be catered as such.

  • Jim

    I read this post yesterday and went to the Kroger on Vine for the first time in ten years living downtown. I bought a few staples not readily available at Findlay Market. I was surprised at the choices. Not awful. They could create a much more welcoming environment by hiring a kid to pick up litter and hose down the parking lot. Also, fresh meats would be nice, if they could move them in a reasonable amount of time. Avril Meats on Court is a great alternative.

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    The Newport Kroger is what it is because Ft. Thomas is home to *thousands* of wealthy people. It is also convenient to commuters — no doubt many people south of I-275 and in Anderson Township buy food there on their way home from work in downtown Cincinnati. This location was so strategic that they literally moved a mountain to build it.

    Meanwhile, people have complained for many years about the Vine St. Kroger, but have never acknowledged that under 1,000 wealthy people live within walking or shot driving distance of it, and it’s not convenient to the interstate, where it could pick up business from downtown commuters.

    Thousands more need to move to Over-the-Rhine before this becomes a chicken-or-egg question.

  • chuck

    The Newport genericapelago is a very quick drive for all car-owning residents of uptown, East Walnut, Mt Adams and downtown. They destroyed an entire neighborhood to build twin box boxes, but I have to admit, as a suburban-to-town migrant, I do a lot of shopping now in Newport/Highlands rather than in Cincinnati because of that 471 access. You have Remke, Target and Kroger within 1 big tarmac valley. And K-mart too!
    I also know there are tons of people who commute from Anderson/Eastgate thru 275/471 in NKy and they shop there too. But once Kroger fixes Corryvile, I’ll be there more often, and the Clifton IGA too. And I bet Queensgate could get some retail. Nobody realizes it’s there yet.

  • Dan

    I work for Kroger corporate as well. While I do see continuing improvements happening at the Vine Street Kroger if more patrons with spending money come into the store, they will likely be relatively minor until OTR would have the patron base needed in order for a revamped VSK to be actually profitable.

    I’ll also say this – Kroger doesn’t really get urban stores. As mentioned previously, our store planning models are all big-box stores; smaller city stores like VSK or the Walnut Hills Kroger are usually holdovers that were first built decades ago and are awkwardly shoehorned into our current planning models. Moreover, most of Kroger’s management is pretty suburban in orientation. I work in a large merchandising department with over 30 managers, and I’m one of the *three* managers who live in the actual city. Most managers seem to live in Northern Kentucky or the northern burbs. Most Kroger HQ employees don’t see the Kroger on Vine because they don’t drive on Vine and they don’t walk that far away from the building for lunch.

    The best way to slowly bring about changes is to shop at the VSK, talk to the manager when you find outdated product or can’t find what you need, and let the Kroger Cincinnati Division know what you want. The phone number’s already been given above, and you can write the division at this address:

    150 Tricounty Parkway
    cincinnati, OH 45246

  • The chicken and egg question is even worse because those who do live near the OTR Kroger and have the ability to shop elsewhere will do so because they can. Yes, Findlay Market and some of the other downtown stores siphon off some of the better patronage, but so do the better Kroger stores farther out. The Hyde Park Kroger is such a great performer because it siphons off the best shoppers from not only OTR, but also the Walnut Hills and Corryville stores, and maybe even somewhat from the smaller Mariemont and Madeira stores. Why bother to renovate them if it’ll just make Hyde Park’s sales worse? It’ll be interesting to see how the renovation of the Corryville store shifts the balance in Uptown and OTR, as many shoppers with the means in Uptown go to the Winton Place Kroger instead. Could a good Corryville Kroger kill off the Walnut Hills store, or even the one in OTR? Whenever the streetcar makes it up Vine Street it could really change the dynamics of grocery shopping if the OTR store continues to flounder.

  • Radarman

    1. Kroger sized a new store to fit Warsaw Avenue, making that area truly walkable. It has too much parking, but nothing like the usual ocean of tarmac. So someone there is looking at an urban model.
    2. VSK is the only Kroger I know of with a bicycle rack. Kudos for that.
    3. All the comments about the need to shop at the VSK as often as possible are correct. The management will work to accommodate the customers. They have been doing so.
    4. Joe Pichler, former CEO, and David Dillon, current CEO know that the store leaves much to be desired, but they have supported its operation as a service to the neighborhood. it wouldn’t hurt to let them know that you appreciate the effort.

  • Both Newport and Bellevue Krogers have had Bike Racks for over a year now.

    And are easy to reach for OTR by Bike. I know because I make it weekly from Newport to Findley on Bike.

  • ParatrooperJJ

    Jenny – Were you able to come up with any public information on the Vine store’s loss rate compared to other stores?

  • Queen City Center Kroger (Spring Grove Village) has a bike rack & the staff frequently blocks it with seasonal merchandise. If you’re lucky they will even pour water all over your bike.
    Since MoBo went in in Northside there have been more and more bikes there – and an eclectic bunch of old bikes they are.

  • crAnkyoldbitch

    nobody has mentioned Mayberry’s little market in this discussion, are they still openo ?I favor more markets like this.or a trader joes I would kill for 1 of those in downtown .

  • Kroger clearly has no interest in operating stores with urban footprints. The one Kroger store I have ever run into that is close to this style of design will now be shut down in Atlanta.

    The two-level store is inbetween the very affluent and very densely populated Buckhead and Midtown neighborhoods in Atlanta. Plus there is lots of vehicle traffic right by it as it is close to both I-75/I-85 and located directly on Peachtree Street.

    They claim declining sales and a lack of profitability is to blame, but I suspect that they just don’t want to deal with non-standard design stores. Disgusting really.

  • I read an article recently about the VSK losing a significant amount of money (think seven figures, but I don’t remember the exact $ figure so I won’t attempt it) to theft. In a store that is isn’t profitable to begin with, that’s like a kick in the teeth. No amount of shelve shifting or newer flooring is going to fix that issue. Until more of the perceived crime and sloth issues around that store are fixed from a neighborhood growth standpoint, the VSK will never draw the customer base it needs to support a revamped store. From a profit-loss standpoint, if Kroger didn’t care about that community or that store, it should’ve pulled the plug on it YEARS and YEARS ago. The truth is that they are a business and they do have shareholders to explain things too – they aren’t in business to peddle unicorns and fluffy dreams of a better OTR. Just keeping that store open despite it being a drag on their bottom line is a point of pride. Note – none of the big chains that have opened new groceries in our area have come anywhere near OTR, but yet people want to criticize Krogers for what IS there.

    @Leisa – selling single serving malt liquor does not encourage people to sit in the parking lot and drink it. People choosing to do that are being tacky by their own choice. Other groceries and Kroger locations sell single serving malt liquor and for some wacky reason, people manage to make it out of the parking lot before getting their buzz on. By your logic, people should be packing the parking lot with gatorade, soda, bottled water, and every other beverage that is sold in single serving amounts. Your logic is flawed.

    @Paige – Park & Vine on Main St. sells toilet paper and frankly, is becoming an ever better presence for eco-friendly grocery items in OTR. Oh, and they’re open late. You don’t have to go 3 miles for TP at 8pm, just a few blocks on the other side of Vine.

  • nicker66

    Re: New Price Hill store – That store is a suburban 70,000sf store. Nothing “urban” about it.

    I don’t think Kroger should be a villain here. They are not a charity, they are a business that needs to turn a profit. Let the little guys fill the urban market niche or let Kroger raise their prices without protest. The fact that the charge the same prices on Vine St. as Newport was the surprising part of the article for me.

  • Neil Clingerman

    “nobody has mentioned Mayberry’s little market in this discussion, are they still openo ?I favor more markets like this.or a trader joes I would kill for 1 of those in downtown .”

    Mayberrys is the right idea but is way too small to do what its trying to do. If you want a small market, these are two very good ones that should be a model for one in Cincy which are in Wicker Park, where most grocery needs can be met, abet at a bit higher cost than a big store: (this is a website that shows the store a bit better).

  • Schmiez


    Yes Mayberry is alive and kicking. I cant say for sure how they are doing. I go there about once a week. Mostly for beer, bread, a few veggies for that night, and some snacks. They tweet about meats but they are long sold out before i get there. Quality of EVERYTHING is very good though (some fruits are a bit bruised, but again maybe its picked over before i get there).

    You will have a hard time finding better staff though.

    Given they are not seasoned grocer’s, i think its a nice experiment. A store twice the current size would be perfect.

    And yes, they are open until 9, and they have TP!!!

  • Liz

    Crime and blight issues in urban areas are not only an issue of cultural standards of behavior, but are often directly related to the goods and services offered in the area. Offering single-serving liquor DOES directly relate to litter issues and loitering (not to mention public drunkenness and urination). Hence the reason many cities and neighborhoods nationwide have put strict regulations on the sale of these beverages. We can argue about the reasons why urban sidewalks are littered with empty bottles and chip bags, while the parking lots of suburban stores that offer the same items are not, but it’s impossible to ignore the cultural issues of loitering and blight that accompany corner-stores and single-serving grocery options. And to think that alcohol which is engineered specifically for quick consumption and easy drunkenness is not, by design, a greater societal issue than Gatorade or potato chips is a little near-sighted. It doesn’t matter whether the VS Kroger has one shelf of alcohol or ten, I agree with @Leisa that it’s presence at a community grocery store is counter-productive to providing a safe, healthy consumer environment.

    (Again, pardon any misspelling or mistakes! Typing on a phone…)

  • @randy

    I think you might consider decaf.

    I think it’s quite possible that Kroger does not know how to run an urban smaller footprint grocery store.

    Their business practices, systems and culture are focused on larger footprint store, and yes there are probably important economy of scale issues in having stores of a similar footprint. Now when you have an outlier and many things need to be run special for one store that increases costs.

    Just because you don’t know how to do something, or you decided that a market segment isn’t providing an appropriate ROI for your business isn’t “disgusting.”

    Actually, I think the OTR community, are blessed to have a grocery store they can walk to – Try walking to one in Avondale. And OTR has are several grocery stores in biking distance.

    Trust me running a urban core grocery store is hard, I know I spent a lot of time trying to get someone to reopen the Thiftway on York St. in Newport. Now if we had street cars linking our neighborhoods a lot of these problems would be solved

    But that’s another discussion.

  • Juan de Bonia

    Once again the myopia is thick and heavy.

    So the Kroger company is at a crossroads?

    They are letting a key growth opportunity slip out from underneath them?

    Everyone “deserves” to have access to milk that isn’t going to spoil in two days?

    Gosh, I wonder how those idiots 4 blocks away at headquarters put their shoes on in the morning!

    Jenny, I would have agreed with you if you would have said that it would be nice if the OTR Kroger was cleaned up and had different selections. What you did, however, was suggest that Kroger is missing an opportunity, doesn’t know what they are doing, and is inflicting social injustice on the nutritionally-conscious people of OTR.

    Did it ever occur to you that they are pretty good at the grocery business and that their business strategy in OTR is intentional?

    Go2Newport, I think you are spot-on about Randy and Kroger’s urban smaller foot print grocery store.

  • Looking at some of the things people are asking for i.e. toilet paper at 9PM (Which I think is important!).

    I wonder if what OTR really needs, is something like a Dollar General or Family Dollar type store. Or maybe a Duane Reed type drug store. Though Walgreens and CVS are not that far away.

    I agree these are not trendy stores. But, they do have experience in opening stores in urban areas, and are well suited to a smaller footprint.

    Plus, I think more retail diversity is a good thing for any neighborhood.

  • What came first, the cheese or the crackers?

    @Jake: Unless you don’t understand wealth distribution, when you say that “thousands of affluent residents need to move into the neighborhood” to get a better cheese selection, you come across as saying OTR needs more white people.

    So the age-old chicken and egg dilemma remains unanswered but with the help of some racism, you have solved the cheese and cracker question.

    Your use of the word affluent is a rather ignorant and arrogant choice of adjectives.

  • If the discussion begins to devolve into personal attacks the thread will be closed.

    @JJ, I didn’t do the research on how the store is doing financially.

    @Juan, Coming from a retail design perspective, the existing Kroger models are big-box suburban stores. They have virtually no urban stores, and those they do have appear to be neglected. Other stores are beginning to fill this niche. My proposal was that they COULD seize an opportunity in the urban market sector which they appear not to have done yet.

    After the article published, I spoke with an architect whose firm works with Kroger. He didn’t confirm explicitly but did indicate they are looking at urban models.

    I would never presume that what Kroger is doing is bad business – certainly they are very successful. I simply offered an option that may or may not have been considered as an opportunity they could capitalize on – if they were willing to blow all that money on the Kenwood Towne Center Fresh Market disaster, surely a piddly little urban store would be small potatoes.

    @Newport – Randy gets a little intense sometimes, but means well. We’ve been trying to get him to switch to decaf for years, but I don’t know if they carry it in South Korea 😉

  • Juan de Bonia

    Keep it appropriate, Jenny. That’s a pretty big breach of trust there.

  • Kroger is like Walmart. They both come in, destroy neighborhoods and then force their standard design into whatever that space or area may be. Look at Newport for a recent and nearby example. Kroger came in, blew up a hillside and neighborhood, then rammed their suburban megabox store down the area’s proverbial throat.

    Kroger should be commended for at least paying decent wages and supplying benefits, but their destruction of neighborhoods, and their abandonment of inner-city neighborhoods should not. I get it. Kroger is a business and their leaders are very good at selling huge volumes of merchandise at low prices (just like Walmart). But just because the locally based grocery chain can’t figure out a successful urban business model doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist, and it certainly doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to Kroger’s opportunistic business practices.

  • @Randy – bad kimchi?

    Shoved down their throats?

    Wow couldn’t someone say 3CDC is shoving gentrification down the throats of the residents of OTR? I sure remember seeing those protests on Vine St. Last summer.

    Why does any success in Newport always seem to get my friends across the river so worked up?

    The old Grand St. was blighted with many of the homes with failing foundations due to hillside slippage. Plus it was essentially a frontage road connecting to exit ramps. Newport is 3.1 square miles, it’s impossible to do any development with out displacing something

    I must say I am quite happy having a Kroger and Target I can bike to.

  • There’s nothing wrong with Newport, and in fact I root for its success just like I do with all Cincinnati neighborhoods. The problem is that the new Kroger/Target development is very close to the urban core of the region, but is a completely suburban design. This is no different than the trash Center of Cincinnati development in Oakley. Both are junk projects that were championed by opportunistic developers and businesses not wanting to break out of their suburban mold in an urban context.

    I don’t look at the new suburban Krogers in Newport or Price Hill as successes. They are cheap products that will become dated in a short time frame. Then the rest of the community will be left with figuring out what to do with Kroger’s disposable store.

  • Radarman

    Kroger didn’t blow up that hilltop in Newport. The developer did, with the blessings of the City. Kroger, Target, and Home Depot were recruited by the developer. (Home Depot backed out)
    The Warsaw Avenue store is vast, but I say again, the parking lot is not. It’s worth a visit to see the number of people who walk to it and for the Central American ingredients. But I doubt that more than one or two commenters know how to get to St. Lawrence corner.

  • Dan

    So here’s a question – is there a large grocery chain out there who’s doing urban grocery stores right – without charging overly high prices? Who should Kroger be emulating?

  • Ben

    Go to any east coast city and you’ll find plenty…

    Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Safeway, Superfresh, Acme,

  • Neil Clingerman

    Jewel Osco (see picture above), Treasure Island, and Dominick’s in Chicago.

  • @Dan: Yes. Publix does very nice urban grocery stores in all kinds of cities. Harris Teeter also does some nice stuff.

  • Dan

    @Ben – Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are a little more pricey than Kroger, no? With a different target market.

    @Neil – My sister used to live in Chicago, and the Jewel Oscos without parking were invariably much pricier stores. The Jewels that had reasonable prices that my sister shopped at all had fairly large parking lots, including her “home” Jewel in Andersonville. The Treasure Islands that I saw in Chicago all had parking lots.

    Still, the point remains – there are chains out there having some success with urban grocery stores and Kroger should learn from them.

  • Ben

    Trader Joe’s is pretty close to Kroeger price-wise, plus the price to quality ratio probably makes it a better deal. Whole Foods is pricier however for the things that Whole Foods specializes in it tends to be a better value.

  • Neil Clingerman

    @Dan: Interesting. I’ll check the prices on the Jewels in Roscoe Village (huge parking lot suburban style store) versus the one in Southport (pictured above). The treasure islands I’m talking about are on the North Side near the lake, I don’t remember parking lots on them….

    Dominick’s is going upmarket, but they do have some of the best urban designed stores. Also Target is getting groceries and they do some really good designs.

    Btw, one of my favorite Targets is between Ravenswood and Rogers Park, its built on stilts, so the parking goes under the store and the store is above the parking. Its a nice compromise for a somewhat more suburban area, also fits in with some of the 1950s architecture that is found in that hood.

  • chuck

    I think an ALDI or similar would fit nicely along Central Pkway by West End toward Brighton. People love those stores – “little box” suburban style I guess you’d call it.

  • Sorry for commenting so late. Been MIA lately due to life being ridiculous.

    Jenny, great article and I largely agree! Kroger IS missing a good opportunity for an urban retail model. I’ve been to presentations by and/or talked to various executives at Kroger corporate (mainly for class), and so I feel like I have a generally strong insider’s perspective. And though most commenters here hit on the points I wanted to make after reading the article, it can all be summed up pretty well by something one exec told us:

    Kroger is a conservative company. They are not a trend-setter, they are a trend-follower.

    Kroger IS looking at urban models, but three things are preventing them from pursuing it whole-heartedly: 1) the suburban model has been too successful (don’t fix what isn’t broken), 2) they still have market share to gain in the suburbs (mostly from the faltering Walmart stores), and 3) they want someone else to prove it can be successful FIRST.

    Until they feel they NEED TO and CAN move to urban locations, they won’t.

    As for the Vine St. location, I’ll say a few things:

    First, yes, it is losing a TON of money. Until Kroger feels it can make money there it will not pour any more into it. That’s just the true state of the matter. The store is mainly open for historical purposes.

    Second, sorry, but OTR needs a lot more residents before Kroger will expand/renovate this store for the profit reason above. And don’t doubt they are tracking the numbers and trends. Kroger is known nationally for its use of demographic data via its relationship with dunnhumby (50% Kroger-owned). If more people shopped there it would definitely help. But from what I’ve heard they’ve got a long ways to go to hit break-even.

    Finally, comparing this store to Newport is actually a little unfair. Certain Kroger stores–Vine, soon-to-be-demolished Corryville, St. Bernard, Walnut Hills, etc.–target “value” customers. Stores like Newport and Hyde Park target “affluent” customers. Completely different customers with completely different expectations. You’re right though; the prices are the same.

    It would be nice to see a change in attitude towards urban groceries at Kroger, but for now I think there’s no urgency for them to do so. Look at how much the company has grown in the last decade or so based on a suburban model. Watch for a Trader Joe’s (I agree with Randy that something like this at the Banks would be nice) or similar to eventually come in. I also like the suggestion for a CVS or Walgreen’s. In the meantime, the local independent merchants (like Park + Vine) may be the best option.

  • Joe

    Does anyone know about Kroger’s Foods4Less format in western states? According to a recent article in the Enquirer it is targeted at food deserts and has prices averaging 10 to 15% less. Kroger owns a large variety of chains in a number of states, they may have a urban format under one of those brands.

  • There was a Food4Less where I grew up in Marietta, OH. I’m fairly sure it was a franchise though; Kroger doesn’t own most of the F4L stores in the Midwest. It was basically a low-price warehouse format. (Think Sam’s Club without the membership fees, and a little less emphasis on bulk.)

    Kroger does own a lot of brands (mainly via acquisition), but I can’t think of any urban model. They really don’t have one. The older stores are the closest to urban models, and those stores are being largely abandoned.

  • You haven’t mentioned the plague of a store that exists in Clifton.  they should be ashamed to have their name on that building and they should do us all a favor and close the doors, put out lawn chairs for the hundreds of cheering spectators, and burn that shameful eye sore to the ground… NEVER is their produce fresh.  ROTTEN, ROTTEN, ROTTEN, ROTTEN…
    And I am not sure I believe your assessment of the downtown store at all… Are you sure you aren’t on Kroger’s payroll?  You sound like a shill…

  • I just wrote a Yelp review of this Kroger, complete with photos of moldy vegetables and rotting meat. The Clifton Kroger is just as bad.