Bob Slone, a well-known independent Lexington grocer, is selling the last of his Slone's Signature Market stores in Lexington to concentrate on Eastern Kentucky.
Slone said Wednesday he has reached a deal with a franchisee of Save-a-Lot that will buy the Southland Drive location effective in September.
"It's been very, very tough to run one store in a town the size of Lexington," he said. "To try to get your message out through the media is virtually impossible for just one store.
"We felt this is the best long-term decision for our company. We still have four stores in Eastern Kentucky and hope to grow there."
The store at 398 Southland Drive will remain open for two more weeks, then close to spend the last two weeks of August moving out.
"We've been wanting to get into Southland for a number of years," said Larry Noe, president of Save-a-Lot franchisee Saver Group. "We think the demographic looks good.
"We have a saying in our company: 'We like to sell groceries to people who like to save money or need to save money.'"
The company has three other Lexington Save-a-Lots, in Eastland Shopping Center, and on North Broadway and on Versailles Road. Saver Group has 37 stores across Kentucky, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Slone's and Lexington
Slone's career has been marked with ups and downs as he had seen his company grow only to struggle later and file for bankruptcy protection about a decade ago because of big-box retailers that offered lower prices based on their purchasing power.
The timing also is bittersweet, as earlier this summer marked 50 years since Slone started running his first grocery in Lexington.
He bought his first operation, which was smaller than a convenience store, in 1960 on South Broadway near Waller Avenue. At that time, it was called MRS, an acronym for Murray, Reed and Slone. He moved on eight years later to buy the store on Southland Drive that has changed names but always had the same grocer walking the aisles.
And while Slone was a constant, his neighborhood wasn't.
"As older people leave the neighborhood for whatever reason, it's become a starter-home neighborhood, so the clientele is somewhat different than when we came in here 42 years ago," he said. "We still have customers who have shopped here for all 42 years, but the number of them has certainly decreased."
The new neighbors, he said, "they're more of a Wal-Mart shopper."
The store's 30 workers are being interviewed by Saver Group, which is looking to retain them, Noe said.
Slone and the company's management will be moving to his Morehead store, which will continue to operate, as will Slone's Signature Markets in Jackson, Grayson and Olive Hill. Three of those don't have competition from big-box grocers. The one that does, Morehead, faces off against Kroger and Wal-Mart but is downtown instead of on the bypass, Slone said.
Earlier this year, Slone said the Jackson store is his best by sales volume, with Morehead trailing. The Lexington location was fourth.
The Southland store was a far cry from its heyday in the 1970s, when "it was probably the highest volume store in the state of Kentucky," Slone recalled. "The Wal-Mart factor and the Kroger factor have really impacted any independent's ability to operate in this day and age."