BY MICHAEL BURKE
Kohl's, one of the Racine area's oldest supermarket names, has become the latest casualty in the grocery store wars.
Company officials visited local stores Friday to deliver the news. The local stores, three of 23 stores in the Milwaukee area to be closed, will shut down no later than mid-August, according to sources.
Kohl's is owned by Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., or A&P. Company officials could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
Kohl's operates a grocery stores at 3915 Durand Ave. and Kohl's Food Emporiums at 1200 N. Green Bay Road and 5111 Douglas Ave.
At one time, the company also had a store at 1920 Douglas Ave., although that store closed years ago. The building is still vacant.
In late February, facing nine months of heavy financial losses, A&P made two related announcements: that it had sold seven Madison-area Kohl's supermarkets to Copps Corp.; and that it was exploring the sale of its Milwaukee and Racine-area stores.
With Friday's announcements to Kohl's employees, the Montvale, N.J.-based company evidently threw in the towel on making the sale.
At the time, Jewel or Kroger were being mentioned as possible buyers as A&P divested some of its assets.
Employees of Kohl's reportedly were told they would be paid severance and have health insurance coverage for a few months after the stores close. An official of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union local could not be reached for comment.
Kohl's is the fourth large grocery name to disappear from the Racine area in the past few years. In early 2001, Randall's County Market closed its 41,000-square-foot store on Washington Avenue.
Sentry Foods also closed a Washington Avenue store, and in fall 2001 Dallas-based Fleming opened a no-frills Rainbow Foods there. The Rainbow experiment quickly faded, and Fleming closed that store earlier this year.
In its heyday, Kohl's was the epitome of the modern supermarket. But it did not face the degree of competition from other large supermarkets that exists today.
The south-side Kohl's, for example, now lies between a Piggly Wiggly store and Racine Produce, and within a few minutes' drive of a large Pick `n' Save.
The Food Emporiums are another story, in size and in location. However, A&P decided to pull the plug on all remaining stores.
Employees "were all expecting the Emporium to be sold and were devastated" when they found out it would close, said the spouse of a local Kohl's employee.
Sue Ashley, a shopper at the Kohl's on Green Bay Road, said she'll be sorry to lose her favorite neighborhood grocery store.
"If they close it, I am going to miss it terribly," she said. "The personal touch that store has given me over the years is the reason I keep shopping there."
A&P operates approximately 690 stores in 15 states, the District of Columbia and Canada, under various trade names.