The University City Kroger is set to close Oct. 16. Businesses in the shopping center have until Dec. 31 to vacate so the lot can be redevloped into a  six story mixed-use retail space with apartments. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

The clock is officially ticking for the businesses making up University City shopping center.

The center’s Kroger at 2913 Olentangy River Road is set for an Oct. 16 closing. It has been the centerpiece of the strip center for 56 years and announced Friday it would be closing in October — more than two months before it has to vacate due to construction.

In addition to Kroger’s upcoming closure, a handful of businesses, such as Big Lots, have already closed.

“For Lease” signs hanging in the windows of closed businesses almost outnumber existing business’ signs.

The shopping center just north of Ohio State is set to be replaced by a six-story mixed-use shopping center with apartments. Robert Weiler Co. and DCR Commercial Development are teaming up on the overhaul of the current one-story retail center.

Businesses in the parking lot of the center, including PNC bank, Sunoco, McDonald’s, Applebee’s and Raising Canes, will remain open during the redevelopment.

Kroger’s early closing is a signal to other business owners that their time is coming soon — maybe even sooner than they initially thought; the businesses have until Dec. 31 to leave.

“There is no way I will be able to come back [after the renovation],” said Matthew George, owner and operator of George’s Pizza, the last of three pizza shops still open in the shopping center. “The rent will be double. At least. It’s just unrealistic for me to expect to come back.”

Knowing he will be unable to afford rent after the renovation, and with business slipping ahead of the looming closure, George said he is looking to leave before the end of the year.

“If I find something tomorrow, I’ll leave,” the owner of nine years said. “If not, I will definitely be gone in the next couple of weeks.”

Other business owners, such as Delwar Mottaleb, owner of El Jalapeño Mexican Grill, said he will be leaving before the end of year deadline.

“It sucks,” he said. “For a small business, it is almost impossible to turn a profit. I have been here for five years and just started making money in the last year or so after paying things off. And now I am forced to leave.”

Pateo Ketan, owner of Rick’s Beverage, which has been a staple of the center for 13 years, is viewing the closure as an excuse for an early retirement.

“I’ll be leaving,” he said. “We aren’t interested in relocating. For us, it will be the end.”

But for residents of the surrounding apartment complexes, such as University Village, leaving midway through the year is not an option.

University Village has more than 1,000 units in the area that houses 2,300 residents, a majority of which are associated with Ohio State, said Dylan Jeskey, a University Village leasing consultant.

Jesky said University Village understands one of the draws the apartment complex is its close proximity to the shopping center, but added, “We don’t have any control of the closures obviously.”

For residents of University Village and other apartments, the lack of a nearby grocery store will certainly be an inconvenience, said Alexis Howell, a third-year in agriscience education.

“I see a lot of people walking to and from there who live here at University Village, carrying their groceries, so it’s obviously an easy, accessible thing for them to go to,” said Nicole Churilla, a third-year in animal science. “I think people who don’t have vehicles will definitely have to drastically change their routine or pick somewhere else to go.”
Jeskey said University Village is currently working on a bus shuttle to nearby shopping centers for residents, many of whom don’t have cars.

While still in the planning process, he said they have considered the Graceland and Lennox shopping centers located at the intersections of Olentangy River and Kinnear roads and North High Street and Morse Road, respectively.

“It’s not very far from where I live, so it’s kinda nice to basically have a one-minute drive or just walk there and pick up a few things,” said Jason Urbanija, a second-year in journalism, referencing his short walk to Kroger.
But for Urbanija and other nearby residents, that short walk to get groceries will soon come to an end.