Kristi Miller remembers when she had more than one choice for grocery shopping in Boulder City.
The two-time BC resident who lived here in the ’90s and moved back about a year ago says she shopped at Albertsons and Vons and at the old Central Market downtown. But when she returned, only Albertsons remained.
“There is only one option in town now so, to be honest, I end up doing most of my shopping at Walmart online and then I drive over the hill once a week to pick it up. I would love it if there was a Smith’s in Boulder City because even the one over the hill is very run down. And I really only go to the Albertsons when I need one or two things and am desperate,” she said.
Miller is not alone. The desire for a second grocery option is high on the wish list for many in Boulder City. But that desire runs 180-degrees counter to the actual trend. Back when Miller was first here, Von’s and Albertsons were separate companies. Today, they are one company. And that trend toward greater concentration looks set to continue as two of the biggest players in the industry, Albertsons (which owns Vons and Safeway) and Kroger (which owns Ralphs, Smith’s, Pay Less and others) are looking to become one company with Kroger acquiring Albertsons.
That proposed merger is what brought Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford to Boulder City recently to gather input from residents about the potential sale.
Ford met with a handful of interested locals including Mayor Joe Hardy in the council chamber at City Hall on Aug. 29.
A Ford representative explained the session. “Under NRS chapter 598A, the Attorney General’s Office has the authority to review the proposed merger to ensure it is proper; does not unfairly disrupt competition; and is fair to local grocery stores, gas stations, consumers, employees and others.
“AG Ford is interested in hearing from the public about potential concerns and impacts related to the merger, and will take those concerns into account when determining what actions, if any, his office will take in regard to this merger. The Boulder City listening session was productive and enlightening, and AG Ford would like to thank those who came out to express their concerns.”
The AG does have options. One would be to join a lawsuit that was filed by other state attorneys general to oppose the sale. Another would be to negotiate in advance with Kroger to ensure that local impact is minimized by things like getting the merged company to agree to continue employing workers from both chains.
A lawsuit representing consumers directly recently failed when a U.S. district judge in San Francisco dismissed the action saying that the 25 plaintiffs from multiple states “made no effort to explain how the merger would affect them directly.”
The Federal Trade Commission has also not yet weighed in and would have to approve any merger of this size.
“Attorney General Ford’s generous listening session gave constituents a chance to share their opinions on the impact of the proposed merger, concerns on food costs and any effect on the employment of workers of Albertsons/Vons and Kroger/Smith’s,” Hardy said.
“Boulder City has tried for years to attract an additional grocer, but for our population, the main competition, lowest prices and widest product selection continue to be grocers located over the hill, including Walmart and warehouse stores. Some at the event referred to the merger as a potential “monopoly”. I feel that there will be no monopoly as long as competition from the big box stores exists. This merger seems to be about competition and keeping prices stable.”
Hardy added, “The proposed merger would likely not impact Boulder City, because we only have one grocery store at the current time – Albertsons – as well as a smaller selection available at the 99-Cent Store and 7-11. I think that the proposed merger could decrease costs to the involved chain stores, thus allowing those savings to be passed on to the customers of Boulder City in order to be competitive with the discount mega stores.”
Ford’s office has put a survey seeking opinions about the merger online. It is available here: https://ag.nv.gov/Hot_Topics/Grocery_Stores_Merger_Survey/