Empty shelves lined the aisles of Food 4 Less on South Street Thursday as union members again protested the store’s impending closure.

The North Long Beach grocery store is part of a string of closures announced by Kroger Co. this year following several cities’ passage of “hero pay” ordinances.

The Long Beach protest was part of a larger demonstration occurring simultaneously in Los Angeles and Seattle. The grocery giant announced store closures in all three cities following their passage of ordinances requiring large grocery stores to temporarily increase employee pay.

“This is the closest store to my house and it’s a good store—not as pricey,” said Judy Piggue, a frequent shopper who said the closure will be inconvenient for her and her family. “People are going to have to go to other stores and they are going to be more crowded.”

Chants of “no more closures” filled the air as union members, residents, community activists and employees congregated outside the store with signs, including oversized pennies meant to signify the amount of money needed to pay workers hero pay as opposed to corporate executives’ multimillion dollar salaries, one protester said.

Meanwhile inside the store, items are no longer being restocked when they run out, one employee said.

Shelves site empty, not being restocked as items sellout, at the Food 4 Less on South Street in North Long Beach, Thursday, April 8, 2021. The grocery store is slated to close April 17. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Food 4 Less and an East Long Beach Ralphs at 3380 N. Los Coyotes Diagonal are slated to close April 17. Two Quality Food Center stores in Seattle are slated to close April 24 and the three LA stores are to be shuttered May 15.

“Kroger cannot keep closing stores to punish workers and communities,” Andrea Zinder, president of UFCW Local 324, said. “It is obscene for a company that is making billions in profits and stock buybacks to devastate a community like this.”

After skyrocketing sales in the first half of 2020, during which profits nearly doubled, on Sept. 11, Kroger officials authorized a $1 billion share buyback program. The company reported over $2.6 billion in profits during the last three quarters of 2020, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank.

In Long Beach, the closures are set to impact nearly 200 workers. Zinder said the union has been told every employee is being offered a transfer to another store but noted the company must be cognizant of where employees live and possible transportation limitations because many employees live nearby and may not have vehicles to travel farther for work.

The Long Beach City Council approved a temporary $4 pay bump for grocery workers at large chain stores on Jan. 19 and Kroger made its closure announcement less than two weeks later. The Seattle City Council approved its $4 ordinance Jan. 25 and the LA City Council finalized its own $5 hero pay in early March.

“We’re disappointed,” the company said in an email to the Post. “When we met with councilmembers we shared with them the unintended consequences that would result if the ordinance passed.”

LA City Councilmen Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Paul Koretz on Wednesday introduced a motion to have the city investigate why Kroger is closing three of its stores in the city. The company claims each of the stores slated for closure were underperforming even before the hero pay mandates.

“The City Council should seek information from the grocery stores and their executive management to better understand their actions and inform the City Council on ways that might protect the city and its residents from the consequences of these types of closures,” the motion reads, noting the particular importance to focus on areas known as food deserts.

No such investigation has been proposed in Long Beach, but 9th District Councilman Rex Richardson, whose district the soon-to-be-shuttered Food 4 Less resides, said he will be keeping an eye on the LA investigation. He added that there are no plans for similar actions in Long Beach and that his focus is on expanding access to healthy food in the community.

“Kroger has demonstrated that their interests are in profits and not people,” Richardson said, “and I’m more interested in identifying grocers who will make that investment and commitment to helping people and being part of our economic ecosystem.”

City News Service contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comment from Kroger.

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.