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Goodbye Ukrop's

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whufitness.jpgI recall the day in August 2005 when I walked into one of the newest Ukrop’s stores in suburban Richmond, Va. and found there were entrances to both a gym and doctor’s offices right inside the store.

That’s one of the reasons I was eager to tour this particular unit with CEO Bobby Ukrop and his health and wellness team. I’d heard they had put aside some of the real estate in the store for health and wellness-related enterprises, and it was a key reason why Supermarket News named Ukrop’s that year’s winner of its Whole Health Enterprise Award. A gym in a supermarket? That required a good bit of ingenuity and foresight, indeed.

“We’re local to Virginia,” Ukrop told me as we walked the aisles. “We’re neighbors, so we’re trying to operate a business that’s helping people.”

All of Ukrop’s stores where clustered around Richmond. retailer operated a bakery and fresh meals commissary that were renowned for their output. More important, they placed tremendous importance on making wellness information and resources available to customers. In the deli/meals section, there were signs pointing out gluten-free or heart-healthy or low-fat foods; in the pharmacy there were private wellness center consultation rooms where customers could get advice on diabetes management, healthful dieting or prescription medications. Every year, Richmond’s tree-lined Monument Avenue was closed as thousands ran in the retailer’s 10K race.whudeli.jpg

The produce department was known for locally sourced products long before such foods came into vogue again. There were sweet-tangy Hanover tomatoes, Virginia melons and local orchard peaches that made Ukrop’s a destination.

So why these recollections? Next week, all 25 Ukrop’s stores acquired by Ahold USA-owned Giant of Carlisle for $140 million, will begin a cycle of closings. By May 8th, the last stores will have been changed over to the new owner’s Martin’s banner. According to a story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, each store will shut down for a week so that they can be cleaned, freshly painted and remerchandised in the Martin’s style. Updates will include new cash register systems and self-checkouts.

Ukrop’s embodied the role of the supermarket in the community, and was best-in-class in demonstrating how taking a leadership position in the area of wellness engendered fierce loyalty. As one customer lamented to the newspaper: “… No more paper shopping bags with handles. No more low-cost cholesterol checks — and, if there are no more Ukrop’s stores, will there be no more people dressed in funny costumes running up and down Monument Avenue in the Ukrop's 10K foot races? Without the race, what's the point? It's just silly people running in and out of traffic.”

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