When the Sun Herald posted Thursday that the Winn-Dixie store in Biloxi and 93 others in the region will be closing, people in South Mississippi immediately took to social media to share the news, post their comments.
“I’ve been shopping at that location since it was Delchamps,” said Renick Taylor, who lives near the Biloxi Winn-Dixie, knows the employees and calls the closing of the store on Pass Road “heartbreaking.”
The closing of Winn-Dixie leaves Biloxi with two Walmart Neighborhood Markets, a Walmart Supercenter in West Biloxi, a Food Giant store on Porter Avenue Avenue and a few specialty stores like Lee’s Grocery on Division Street, Vietnamese and other ethnic mini-markets and Fayard BP on Pass Road that sells fresh meat.
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Shoppers will have to drive to Ocean Springs or D’Iberville for the closest Winn-Dixie stores and to Ocean Springs and Gulfport for the closest Rouses Markets.
Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich said in his recent State of the City address that Biloxi is looking for funding to bring a grocery store to city property at Division and Caillavet streets in East Biloxi.
There is also the Keelser Air Force Base Commissary that Scott DeLano with Southeast Commercial said has a big impact on Biloxi’s grocery market. When restaurants opened on the base following Hurricane Katrina there was a direct correlation of restaurants closing outside the base on East Pass Road, he said. A decrease in profits was seen at local grocery stores when the base commissary was expanded, he said.
Who’s No. 1
“It’s been a long time since we have had a grocery store come in and make a stand,” said Taylor, who said he fears Walmart will raise prices in the absence of competition.
“Publix would be great,” said Taylor, and is his top choice for a grocer to open in Biloxi. If not a Publix, Taylor said Kroger, which is the top grocery chain in Mississippi but doesn’t have any locations in South Mississippi, might be a second choice.
Others on Facebook wished for a Wegman’s, Fry’s, Aldi’s or a Trader Joe’s on the Coast.
The closing of grocery stores isn’t unique to Biloxi or South Mississippi, DeLano said.
“It’s an ever-changing world of retail,” he said, and especially a change in the entire grocery store business.
Competition now comes from Amazon and other online retailers, some of which ship meal kits to customers’ door, as well as from dollar stores. Grocery stores are trying to keep up by introducing programs that let shoppers order online and pick up outside the store and Walmart’s Scan & Go that lets customers speed through the checkout line. Rouses Market and Walmart soon will offer home delivery in South Mississippi.
The wine problem
In an effort to bring new choices to the Coast, “We (Southeast Commercial) met with every conceivable grocery store company that’s opening in the southeast,” he said. This includes all the large chains along with Whole Food and Fresh Markets when they were building.
“It’s going to be very hard for a major chain to have just one store in South Mississippi,” he said, since grocery chains tend to group stores so they can service at least two or three together. They also look for areas with booming population such as the North Shore of Louisiana and the Eastern Shore of Alabama, which he said are growing faster than South Mississippi.
It’s also a big deal to retailers that wine sales aren’t allowed at supermarkets in Mississippi, said DeLano, a Republican state Representative for the Biloxi area. A bill he introduced this year to study the idea of allowing alcohol sales in grocery stores has died, as did measures in past years to modernize the state’s liquor control operation that have changed little in 50 years.
There is a way to get around the liquor sales at the Biloxi location. Each grocery chain is allowed to have a liquor store attached to just one of its stores in the state, and for Winn-Dixie that was in Biloxi. The company hasn’t said if it will remain opened or closed.