CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

September 6, 2013

Food World to close Sept. 28

Landlord reportedly declines to renew lease for financially troubled grocer

By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — After spending the past few years swapping owners and avoiding round after round of cuts, the Cullman Food World will close its doors later this month.

Corporate owner Belle Foods announced the store would be shut down on September 28 because the new landlord did not renew the grocery store’s lease agreement. Delaware-based Merchants Retail Partners, under the limited liability company MRP Cullman, recently purchased Cullman Shopping Center in an approximate $10 million deal with major upgrades and expansions planned.

“Belle Foods values the Cullman Food World, and regrets that it will be closing,” a Belle Foods official wrote in a statement. “Belle Foods is grateful to its many loyal customers and employees in the Cullman area, and wishes them the very best. “

The store will begin liquidating inventory immediately through various sales.

Belle Foods has faced some major financial challenges since buying the store and several others. Earlier this year, the company entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and shut down 13 other southeast locations immediately. The Cullman site and 43 other stores were scheduled to be auctioned off this year. Now, with no lease agreement in place moving forward, company officials have opted to shutter the Cullman store.

Before Belle Foods purchased the store, it was sold or liquidated by two other owners in the early-to-mid-2000s.

Calls to the Belle Foods corporate office seeking comment were not returned.

A message left for MRP Cullman developer Bill Leitner was not returned by deadline of this article.

Redevelopment at the shopping center is set to begin immediately, as MRP Cullman renovates and updates existing space and tries to attract new, national tenants with a planned expansion.

 To help fund the project, the city has agreed to pay back some sales and property taxes collected at the development for the next 10 years in an agreement that is the first of its kind in Cullman. When the tax sharing agreement was approved, Food World was not included in the existing tenant list.

Cullman Economic Development Agency retail recruiter Susie Hood Ashley said she was obviously saddened to hear some jobs will be lost, but noted the redevelopment will hopefully attract a new grocer to the area.

“I understand they had been on a month-to-month lease for quite some time, and that has been based on many factors,” she said. “From what I understand from the developer, he is in hot pursuit of trying to keep a grocer in that center, while trying to make sure it’s the best possible store for Cullman residents, providing the best products and customer service. Of course, it’s unfortunate it couldn’t be the existing one, but we would absolutely not want to create a void there without a grocery store.”



Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.