BILOXI — The new Wal-Mart SuperCenter in D’Iberville was welcomed by city fathers because of a large projected increased in sales tax revenues. But it appears it may have come at the cost of the closure of one of only three major grocery stores in Biloxi, Supervalu Foods on Division Street.
The store’s closure has had a negative impact on east Biloxi residents, many of them low-income and elderly, who don’t have transportation to go across the interstate bridge to the new Wal-Mart SuperCenter or to other grocery stores in town.
“Lots of east Biloxi residents are without cars,” said Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway. “There are a lot of elderly people in the area, and it makes it difficult for them. They can’t afford a taxi to go buy groceries.”
Holloway said the new Wal-Mart SuperCenter could have been a factor in the closing of the Supervalu store, but he isn’t certain since the store closed without notice, and without giving a reason for closing. The city is trying to attract another grocery store to the area.
“We desperately need a supermarket on the east side of Biloxi,” Holloway said. “There is a huge void in that area. There is someone looking at the Supervalu location. We have contacted several major chains over the course of the past year of so. We have talked to the Jitney Jungle executives to ask them to consider expanding their Porter Avenue location. Jitney Jungle has a grocery store on Porter Avenue, but it is a small store without amenities like a large supermarket would have.”
The city is working with the Harrison County Development Commission to attract another major grocery store to Biloxi.
“We have a lot of employees in this area who work at the casinos who would love to have a grocery store to stop at on the way to and from work,” Holloway said. “It also stimulates business around the supermarket.”
Following the closure of Supervalu, neighboring merchants expressed concern about losing spinoff business from the Supervalu.
“Super Wal-Mart will move into a community, and wipe out every little mom and pop business,” said Neal Peterson, who owns a tobacco shop and two other businesses on Division street. “They will wipe out a neighborhood.”
The new Wal-Mart SuperCenter in D’Iberville that opened in late May is expected to generate $800,000 per year in sales tax revenue. The store employs about 600 people, and is located at the Intersection of Interstate 10 and Mississippi 15.
Currently a Wal-Mart SuperCenter is under construction on U.S. 90 in east Ocean Springs. There have been concerns about finding a new tenant for the old Wal-Mart location in east Ocean Springs, and impacts on two grocery stores, Kmart and a number of small businesses in east Ocean Springs when the new SuperCenter opens.
The new SuperCenter could also impact the grocery store business in Gautier, which has been trying to attract a major supermarket for years.
“We feel we should have another grocery store here other than Jitney Jungle,” said Jim Allan, Gautier city manager. “The city has, through its Economic Development Council, a subcommittee that is working to get a grocery store. Major chains have looked at this area. We would like to talk to any chains that might be interested in siting a store here.”
Allan said he didn’t believe the new Wal-Mart SuperCenter in east Ocean Springs, only a short drive away from Gautier, would kill the possibility of Gautier attracting a new grocery store.
“In other cities I’ve been in stores like Safeway, as well as Albertsons, which have been more than effective in dealing with Wal-Mart,” Allan said. “I wouldn’t see the situation as being any different here. Albertsons is effective from the standpoint of service, and being the type of store that Wal-Mart doesn’t provide.”
Allan said he is optimistic about Gautier’s chances to attract a major grocery store chain because the city’s population if growing rapidly. An estimated 87% of Jackson County’s residential growth in the past four years has been in the greater Gautier and Ocean Springs areas.
“I believe a bigger store would do well here based on what we are seeing with our population growth,” Allan said. “With the increased population there is greater demand for services such as new commercial development including grocery stores. People want convenience. They also want good buys. That is the reason we need competition out there in the grocery store business.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.