Southern Season will close its Richmond store
After less than two years, Southern Season has decided to call it quits in Richmond. The North Carolina-based gourmet grocer announced Monday that it would close its 53,000-square foot retail store and restaurant in the heart of the Libbie Mill, an urban, mixed-use development at 2250 Staples Mill Road.
President Dave Herman told Virginia Business that the store was too big and expensive to continue to operate, and that Southern Season is switching to a smaller format. He said that the 115 store and restaurant employees just learned today that the store will be closing on April 24, and that they would be given an opportunity to transfer to other stores. People who choose not to transfer will be offered a separation package.
While there will be a storewide closing sale over the next few weeks, the store’s restaurant, Southerly, and the cheese shop and bakery are closing today, Herman said. “All the perishables are closing immediately.”
“We had hoped to do more volume in the store,” Herman said. “Maybe we overestimated taking the Chapel Hill format [60,000 square feet] and moving it elsewhere. Most retailers are downsizing their stores, and other sectors in retail are having their stores be more efficient.”
Asked if the growing competition in Richmond’s grocery market, with many new players such as Aldi and Wegmans, played a role in its decision, Herman responded, “Not really. As more grocery stores come into the market, it will affect the overall state of the Richmond market, but I don’t think it would have affected Southern Season. It did not play a part in our planning. “
The continuing build out of Libbie Mill, a development that includes a new county library, also did not factor into the decision, Herman said. “I would not put the onus on the developer,” he said. “I would put it on the store. It was too big.” While similar in size to the flagship store in Chapel Hill, that store has been around for 40 years and is well established, Herman said.
Gumenick Properties in Richmond, the project developer, released a statement to Virginia Business saying that the company “is disappointed that Southern Season has decided to close its Richmond store.
We continue to believe strongly in the long-term prospects for Libbie Mill-Midtown. Our commitment to completing this community remains firm. We continue to invest in this project. We also have located our headquarters here, commenced home sales and are poised to start construction of a mixed-use building with 327 apartments and 40,000 square feet of retail space. All this proves our belief in the project’s future.”
Gumenick noted recent positive events for the project. Rutherfoord, a Marsh & McLennan agency LLC company, will open an office there in mid-May. Chef Walter Bundy will soon open a new restaurant, Shagbark. “We are selling homes and have contracts in hand. The library is welcoming thousands of patrons daily. And the lake area has become a community focal point,” the company said in its statement.
“Again, we are disappointed that Southern Season was not successful in a superb business location. Following Southern Season’s announcement today, we now move to the resolution of legal issues related to the store.”
Southern Season, which opened on July 31, 2014, was the development's first commercial tenant. It is leasing the store from Gumenick Properites. Cushman & Wakefield, and Thalhimer, leasing representatives for the property, said its brokers would be working to lease the space, including Southerly restaurant.
In its press release on the closing, Southern Season made clear that it wants to focus on a new smaller-store business model, smaller pop-up stores and to move more heavily into digital commerce. “In today’s rapidly evolving retail environment, it is essential that Southern Season maintain a portfolio of the right size stores in the perfect locations. It became apparent to the company that the Richmond store was too large and too expensive to keep open. The decision to close this store was made after careful consideration of the long-term financial performance of this location.”
It was apparent last summer that things were not going as well as expected for the Richmond store. At that time Aaron Brooks, general manager of Richmond’s Southern Season, said the gourmet store needed to do a better job of explaining what it is and what it does, and it tried to do that with more special events and new advertising
Southern Season is not a grocery store, Brooks said during last summer’s media tour. “It’s a gourmet marketplace, with a cooking school and restaurant where people can expect to find exclusive, one-of-kind items that they can’t find anywhere else. If you’re looking for that one dazzling item or ingredient, this is the place to come, “said Brooks. “We have more than 80,000 items in this store typically – many that you won’t find at any other grocery store.”
The company’s new prototype store will be 25,000 square feet, and Southern Season said it will contain all the products typically found in its Chapel Hill store. That includes speciality food, wine, candy, deli, bakery, kitchen gadgets, flowers and gifts.
The new prototype will open in Atlanta in Buckhead in early August, and will be followed by stores in Raleigh in 2017 and Charlotte in 2018. The company also has a 43,000-square-foot store in Mt. Pleasant, S.C.
“By reducing our back of the house space, eliminating the stand alone restaurants,lowering our rent and unfit costs and reducing our labor cost, we are able to expand faster and reach store profitablity during the first year … “ CEO Southern Season Clay Hamner said in a statement.