Harris Teeter Checks Out

Harris Teeter Checks Out

Fairfax store closing doors, moving out.

Customers are starting to see empty shelves at the Harris Teeter Market in the Main Street Marketplace, showing signs that Walgreen’s is moving in sooner than many thought.

In a walk through the store Sunday, May 14, the top shelves on the potato chip aisle were bare, along with many other shelves scattered throughout the store, giving customers a preview of what all the shelves will look like in less than a month.

“I’m not happy to hear that at all,” said Mina Kaveh when she heard of the store’s scheduled closing. “I’ll find them wherever they move.”

If Kaveh wants to continue shopping there, she’ll have to drive to its closest locations in Reston, Falls Church or Arlington, until the store can commit to leasing a new Fairfax County location. Company spokeswoman Jennifer Panetta said the Main Street store needed more space to operate there.

The 40,000 square foot location at 10320 Main St. is one of the company’s smallest in Northern Virginia. The largest Harris Teeter is in Reston, 11806 Spectrum Court, measuring about 58,500 square feet. The store in Falls Church measures in at about 45,000 square feet, and Arlington’s two stores are approximately 40,000 square feet at the Glebe Road location, and about 48,000 square feet at the Harrison Street store.

“We’d like to have a 48,000 square foot store,” said Panetta.

One of Main Street Marketplace's owners and developers, Jay Donegan, said Harris Teeter has just outgrown that particular building and will ultimately find a larger, better suited building somewhere else in the county.

"They're really leaving I think because the store doesn't really reflect the latest store format for them," said Donegan. "Their stores have kind of evolved. They're a quality group."

Panetta would not reveal any financial data from any of the locations, and she wouldn’t comment on whether other factors were involved in the company's decision to close the location.

“They’re a good business in the city and have been,” said Page Johnson, Fairfax Commissioner of the Revenue. “They pay their taxes on time; we’re sorry to see them go.”

Joanna Ormesher, the city's marketing manager, said most of the Fairfax grocery stores have suffered since Wegmans moved in. But that isn’t preventing other small Fairfax stores like Shoppers and Giant from operating. Giant, 9622 Main St., only offers about 25,000 square feet of space, and it has remained open for more than 20 years.

Many of the shoppers leaving the store on May 14 said that they go to Harris Teeter for the fresh foods and variety of selection.

“You can find stuff here you can’t get at a lot of other stores,” said Whitney Schoonover, a George Mason University student. "Plus, we live really close to here, and they have a student discount."

Schoonover said she will probably start shopping at Food Lion once the store closes, and her friend Lindsay Straley said she'll start going to Safeway more often.

UNLESS OTHER Harris Teeter customers want to drive to Reston, Falls Church, Arlington or Ashburn, they will have to switch to other stores too. It’s not the quantity of other stores people are concerned about; it’s the quality. One shopper drives a bit out of his way to come to Harris Teeter for certain products.

“I actually live closer to a Giant,” said Karl Lowe. “But I love those chickens [at Harris Teeter].”

But customers are also driving out of their way to shop at Wegmans. Lena Banks drove all the way from Forrest Hill, Md., to meet her friends there to shop. Tom Botticelli of Fairfax said he usually shops at Wegmans because they have a larger selection than Harris Teeter. Connie Griffin of Annandale stopped at Wegmans because she was in the neighborhood, but said she usually goes to Shoppers.

"It's [shopping at Wegmans] sort of an experience," said Griffin. "But it's kind of expensive."

The enormous store is in its own freestanding building, and the parking lot almost needs a shuttle just to help customers walk through it. Just after noon on Monday, May 15, the parking lots for most of the area’s grocery stores looked very different from the Wegmans lot. Full spaces at its lot stretched for rows, forcing most customers to park in the back and walk across the lot. Within about a half hour of seeing the nearly full lot at Wegmans, the parking lots at Harris Teeter, Food Lion, Giant and Shoppers had plenty of empty spaces in the front rows of each lot. Each one of those four grocery stores shares its parking with shopping plazas or malls, meaning that some occupied spaces may not have belonged to grocery shoppers.