By Kathy Feist
Red Bridge residents were surprised to hear the unexpected news that Balls Sun Fresh grocery store is closing January 28 at the Red Bridge Shopping Center. Word first got out around January 6th before it crescendoed to a high pitch a week later, with cries of a food desert, (Walmart. Target and Hen House are within four miles). A cacophony of who was at fault, why and what grocery story should succeed it dominated social media and street talk.
Ball’s Food Stores finally issued an official statement on January 17th.
“These are always tough decisions but with two other stores within a five-mile radius – one of them recently renovated – we decided to consolidate our efforts and resources,” said David Ball, president of Balls Food Stores. “We’re looking forward to continuing to serve our customers at our other locations and inviting all teammates at the impacted store to join us.”
Balls Foods also owns the Price Chopper stores at 8430 Wornall, 12220 U.S. Hwy 71 in Grandview and a store built at 5665 E. Bannister Rd. in 2021.
All Sun Fresh employees have been offered jobs at surrounding Ball’s Price Choppers in Kansas City and Hen House in Leawood.
Shelves are clearing out fast as prices are marked down by as much as 50 percent throughout the store.
One organization that was also caught off guard was the landlord, Lane4 Property Group which owns the Red Bridge Shopping Center.
“We heard last weekend (Saturday the 7th),” said Brandon Buckley, Vice President of Lane4. “We had hoped to do a renovation, and that they would extend their lease when the current term expires at the end of 2023, but unfortunately they decided to consolidate into other locations.”
Buckley has been fielding calls from patrons of the grocery story on suggestions for future tenants. .
“We are currently in discussions with other grocery operators as that use is a priority,” he says. “Those conversations are still preliminary but we will definitely be targeting quality operators.”
The 35,000 square foot building is small in comparison to today’s growing supermarkets. Nevertheless, some niche grocers, such as Aldi’s, Trader Joe’s, and Fairway, prefer a small space.
“I can promise that we will explore all options to find the best fit,” Buckley assures.
The building initially opened as a Payless grocery store in 1959 when the shopping center was in the process of being built by J.C. Nichols.
In 1991, it changed hands, and second generation grocer George Lipari opened Sun Fresh. It wasn’t long before the store had to compete with mega grocery stores that chose to build nearby, including HyVee, Walmart and Target. Despite the competition and a shrinking Red Bridge Shopping Center, Sun Fresh was a mainstay for the neighborhood.
In 2016, Lane4 announced its purchase of the dying shopping center and in a year, the parking lots were full again. Lipari did not live long enough to enjoy it. He passed away unexpectedly in 2017.
After a brief run with his son Ross managing the grocery store, it was sold off by the Lipari family to David Ball in 2019. A year later the store received a long awaited remodel. The interior was spiffed up with new flooring, lighting and bright wall designs. New shelving replaced the butcher counter and much of the produce section was replaced with liquor.
As far as the future forecast for the space, Buckley says there have been some nibbles, but cautions “Our business moves slowly unfortunately.”
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