The Kroger store in the Northern Lights Shopping Center closed more than a year ago, but the space will be revived with a new international grocery catering to the Linden area's growing immigrant population.
Dublin resident John Sung plans to open a Saraga International Grocery there in May that will employ 120 people. The store will supply such diverse items as mango nectar and soda from Mexico, tapioca from Brazil, sardines from Morocco and palm wine from Nigeria.
"There are lots of immigrants. Low-income people need more food," said Sung, 56, an immigrant from South Korea who sees the store as more than a capitalistic enterprise: It's an opportunity to serve a community that needs a grocery store.
"This is not only about making money," he said. "This is our mission."
Sung owns and operates a Saraga International Grocery on Morse Road in the Northland area and is trying to open a third in a former Kohl's department store on South Hamilton Road across from Eastland Mall.
But he knows success at the Northern Lights location is not going to be easy. The Kroger at 3353 Cleveland Ave. closed Jan. 31, 2018. Store officials said it had lost $3.6 million since 2012.
A grocery store closing is not uncommon -- but this one left a void in the Linden area, where many residents have low incomes and little access to transportation, and where immigrants are trying to plant roots.
Sung said he wants to hire people who live in the Linden neighborhood. At the same time, public officials are working on reviving the long-declining area.
It's difficult to open a grocery store, said Kristin Mullins, president and CEO of the Ohio Grocers Association. With inventory costs, lease expenses and new equipment, the costs often can top $1 million, she said.
"The risk is great," Mullins said. "Kroger didn't feel like it was worth it to stay there."
She said her association will do whatever it can to help Sung.
"He's got a tough road," Mullins said. "We're hoping the community will get behind him."
A public-private program called Healthy Food for Ohio was established in 2016 to offer loans and grants to grocers developing new stores or renovating existing ones in low-income areas. Sung said he was unaware of the program.
Kwodwo Ababio, owner of the New Harvest Cafe south of Northern Lights, said he wishes government officials would offer Sung financial help, just as Columbus and others offer generous tax breaks and other incentives to other companies. The grocery store will be in Clinton Township outside Columbus.
"It's bringing jobs. Hopefully, it's going to stimulate that mall again," Ababio said of Sung's store.
The international community will support it, he said.
Ababio said Linden needs to retool.
"We need to change our stinkin' thinkin'," he said. "Things have changed. It's happening all over the country. People from different nationalities come to this country. We need to embrace that.
"This exemplifies what America is."