During breaks and lulls in business, Thomas Leland sometimes watches the comings and goings at the Buckeye Plaza from the front window of Images Barbershop on East 114th Street where he works.
“I’ve seen people walking from the supermarket carrying eight, nine bags—making their way to the bus stop or walking back home,” Leland said.
He’s not sure what he’ll see after February 4th when Giant Eagle, the plaza’s anchor, shuts its doors. “That store’s a necessity,” Leland said. “You’re gonna have a problem feeding people.”
Leland is not the only person concerned. Politicians, residents and business owners fear that the closing of the supermarket, which has operated as Giant Eagle in that location since 2008, will rob Buckeye of a desperately needed business anchor and slow economic momentum in the area. And with few full-service supermarkets on the city’s east side, others wonder where area residents without transportation will buy groceries.
On January 3rd, Giant Eagle announced plans to close both the supermarket at 11501 Buckeye Road and the GetGo convenience store at 2780 E. 116th Street next month. The Pittsburgh-based retailer also announced that its supermarket at 13820 Lorain Ave. on the city’s west side will close on March 4th. A company spokesperson called the decision to close the locations “difficult” but “necessary.”
The announcement blindsided many people. Last weekend, as shoppers rushed from the store to their vehicles to limit their exposure to frigid temperatures, many didn’t know the store is slated to close.
“It’s closing?” one shopper asked, before contemplating the question of where she’ll buy her groceries after early February. “I don’t know where I’ll go next.”
In a letter to Giant Eagle CEO Laura Karet, Mayor Frank Jackson expressed disappointment over the store closings and lamented the vacuum they’re likely to create.
“The closing of the store at East 116th Street and Buckeye Road marks the end of Giant Eagle on the east side of Cleveland and the two closures mean that there are only two Giant Eagle stores left in a community of nearly 400,000 people,” Mayor Jackson wrote. “These stores provided access to fresh foods and a pharmacy for our residents, many of whom are elderly and rely on public transportation.”
John Hopkins, executive director of the Buckeye Shaker Square Development Corporation, said 35 percent of the area’s residents do not own cars. While there’s a Dave’s Supermarket in Shaker Square less than one mile away, shoppers in city neighborhoods west of the Giant Eagle will be forced to travel a considerable distance before reaching another full-service supermarket.
Hopkins said the closure will also have an impact on the other businesses in the plaza and surrounding area. “That anchor supports the smaller stores in the plaza,” he said. “It’s important for their survival.”
Edward Wrobel, owner of Orban’s Fruit and Flowers at 115th and Buckeye, believes many of the businesses that have moved into the area in recent years—including a MetroHealth Clinic and a senior housing development—did so because of the supermarket’s presence.
“There was a certain synergy with the new businesses that will no longer be there if the supermarket and pharmacy aren’t replaced. Of course, it will have a negative impact,” Wrobel said.
In recent years, the area has gained a new school, library, and a plasma center. Some smaller, mom-and-pop businesses have also arrived. The new businesses seemed to slow the tide of businesses fleeing the area due to crime and safety issues. For example, Lucy’s Sweet Surrender, the storied Hungarian bakery that had been a mainstay on Buckeye since the late 1950s, closed its doors and eventually relocated to Shaker Heights after the owner’s wife was shot during a robbery in 2009.
Hopkins said the development corporation and the city will work with the plaza’s owner to fill the vacancy left by Giant Eagle.
“This will not be the end of the plaza,” Hopkins predicted. “I think we will be able to get a new tenant or tenants in that space. There has already been some interest. But it’s premature to talk specifics.”