Cleanup In Aisle 20

June 25, 2007
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Despite The Kroger Co.'s Wednesday announcement of its purchase of 20 Farmer Jack grocery stores in southeastern Michigan, Byron Center-based Spartan Stores Inc. is keeping mum about its plans in the state's biggest retail food market.

Jeanne Norcross, vice president of corporate affairs, said Spartan is supporting customers of its distribution business who may be interested in some of the 66 stores Farmer Jack has put in play.

But Norcross' statement did not identify those customers, nor did she indicate whether Spartan is planning any purchases itself. Just last week, Spartan took possession of 20 western and mid-Michigan stores in the Felpausch chain.

"Several Spartan independent retailers have expressed an interest in some of the store locations, and we understand that A&P, the parent company, is looking at a July 7 date to have the various sale discussions completed," Norcross said in a statement.

"Spartan Stores continues to support the interest of the independent retailers supplied by Spartan who have expressed an interest in various stores, as their growth in this market could potentially benefit Spartan as their whole grocery distributor. We recognize that this is a complex and detailed process, so it is still too early to speak about specific stores and their future."

The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. of New Jersey is exiting the Southeast Michigan market by peddling its 66 stores there. The 20 stores purchased by Cincinnati-based Kroger will become part of its Great Lakes Division, which operates 244 Kroger stores in Ohio, West Virginia and Michigan

Grand Rapids is receiving its share of ink, from unexpected sources. Grand Valley State University Sustainability Initiative Director Norman Christopher was invited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to Washington, D.C., earlier this month to "outline Grand Rapids success in community sustainable development."

Christopher said Denver and Seattle also gave testimony but the group was especially interested in the wide array of partnerships created around sustainability in Grand Rapids, even among competitors like the world's largest office furniture manufacturers. They don't see much of that in other places.

Grand Rapids is really on the map with this, and credit goes to the community stakeholders who in the mid-80s began to apply that learning from the furniture companies, the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association and the design firms."

Christopher also said that when the EPA learned that 115 businesses or organizations are a part of the GVSU initiative, and that the American Institute of Architects Grand Valley Chapter has nearly 100 firms involved in sustainability issues, and the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum boasts 75 member firms, the group pressed him to explain how those relationships developed and are maintained.

Christopher said the U.S. Green Building Council's ranking of Grand Rapids as one of the top U.S. cities for percentage of LEED-certified building has "opened a lot of doors."

MSN also has carried a feed on sustainable cities, and Grand Rapids is listed, much to the surprise of a GrandValley student studying abroad who happened to click on the site and reported his findings to Christopher. "Our message is getting out, whether we know it or not," he said. "Now there's an expectation; we will continue and lead these programs."

Joann Fitzpatrick, columnist for the South Boston Patriot Ledger and its former editorial page editor, was in Grand Rapids for a wedding this month, and decided to make an example of the city when she turned in her June 21 newspaper commentary. After lamenting the homogenization of America by big box stores and wondering aloud about whether there were any differences in the Midwest, she wrote she knew nothing more of Grand Rapids than its connection to President Gerald R. Ford and to "Amway."

"Many if not most of the guests flew in from both coasts and interesting places in between, such as Santa Fe. There was elitism to spare but at the same time willingness to be charmed by a place that truly seems to represent good old-fashioned American values," she wrote, quoting her group's comments of "What a nice town. What a surprise!"

Fitzpatrick also wrote: "If there are surreptitious litter police, they keep themselves well hidden, but the streets of Grand Rapids are as gleaming as the refurbished buildings throughout the downtown. Community pride is everywhere. …"

She continued, "I love Boston … but …" and commented about "Midwestern friendliness and helpfulness everywhere," making points about the helpfulness of hotel employees, cab drivers, and store and restaurant employees. She cited GR as a "laboratory of urban renewal," commented on Michigan's manufacturing predicament "with more bad news sure to come …" and then related area economic resurgence in the health care businesses.

"So what?," she wrote. "But think about all those Boston-area college graduates, our biggest source of human capital, and the cost of living in Massachusetts, and then compare it to Grand Rapids. There you can buy a five-bedroom house in the historic district for $400,000. Yup, $400,000, and you could walk to work, breathe clean air and not worry about litter blowing in your face. And your children could attend a neighborhood school."

Another of her points sure to be cheered by those who have toiled so long on economic diversity: "There, the Amway Corp. and its founders put their names all over downtown, investing in public buildings they hope will rejuvenate the city. Here, corporations hand out a few dollars to local charities, but there is less to donate as they are bought up by national companies more interested in naming rights on arenas than in philanthropy or rebuilding communities."

Leadership Grand Rapids Executive Director Kevin Stotts said the overwhelming majority of comments from guests during the May national conference were similar. "I think we need to concentrate on these community strengths when 'selling' our city," he said. The national Leadership conference was in Atlanta last year and heads to Denver in 2008. The biggest hit for convention guests was the hospitality not only of LGR, headed by Steelcase's Deb Bailey, but by service sector employees. "What everyone really appreciated was the small-town hospitality with a big-city environment."

The draw to Grand Rapids for Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama is more related to politics than Midwestern friendliness, but the progressive Women's Alliance is said to have him scheduled for appearance on July 12. While details are still being planned, it is sure that the group assisting several local candidates into office (most notably City Commish Rosalyn Bliss who is holding her first '07 fundraiser on June 26) is not yet making any endorsement.    

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