By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The business climate in the city of Bluefield hasn’t been good in several years. Even when a budding entrepreneur emerges with a dream of developing a business plan, factors that are beyond the entrepreneur’s control can further compound an exasperating problem.
“I don’t have a formal traffic count on Cumberland Road before and after the Kroger store closed, but I can tell you that my business has dropped off considerably,” Chris Disibbio, owner of Key Ingredients For Life said. Key Ingredients is located across Cumberland Road from the entrance to the Bluefield Shopping Plaza where the Kroger store was located until it closed earlier this year.
“I don’t know if people who were coming to the Kroger store to shop decided to come here and have lunch or dinner first, or for some other reason, but my business was a lot better when that grocery store was open,” Disibbio said. “It used to be that I couldn’t get out on Cumberland Road out of the entrance to Key Ingredients because of all the traffic, but now, you can pull right out in the road and sit cross-ways if you want, it’s that bad.”
The Cumberland Road commercial development started in earnest from 1969 through 1977, when the late Edwin Elliott was serving as the city’s mayor. The personable Elliott was active in community affairs on a broad front and was a popular sports reporter on WHIS-TV (now WVVA).
Although Bluefield’s major urban renewal project of the early-to-mid 1960s was essentially finished by the time Elliott was elected mayor, the city had made connections with national franchise restaurants and businesses that gave Elliott contacts promote his plans for expansion in other parts of the town. Many of the businesses that still flourish on Cumberland Road arrived during that era.
Disibbio said that he was saddened to learn of Kroger’s decision to close its Bluefield store, but he said it was heartening to learn that another local store — Grant’s — was eager to open a new store in the former Kroger location.
“People in this neighborhood and in South Bluefield have become accustomed to shopping for groceries in that location,” he said. “If Grant’s would have moved in, some of the brands might have been different, but that probably wouldn’t matter to a lot of the steady customers who shopped at the old Kroger store.”
Disibbio said he became perplexed when K-VA-T, the grocery business that operates Food City stores in Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky, acquired the lease to the former Kroger site. “I knew when I saw a comment in the paper made by one of K-VA-T’s people, ‘Well, we are in the grocery store business,’ that they had no plans of opening a grocery store there.
“I’m not saying it’s a bad business decision,” Disibbio said. “The thing that troubles me is, does a business as big as K-VA-T really need the business that bad to destroy several businesses in a community,” Disibbio said. “They stepped into the middle of a deal that has been struggling for some time. I’ve had my business for 17 years. I was closed a few of those years when I was in California, but our business has been growing as we start building a solid customer base.
“Our business plan isn’t just simply to operate a healthy food restaurant across the road from a grocery store,” he said. “I’ve put up a billboard out on John Nash Boulevard that brings in some people from the interstate, but where I’m missing out on now is my local customer base. Some of that may be because of the economy, but it just seems like the traffic count is down on Cumberland Road.”
Disibbio is committed to the concept of providing healthy food and is also a proponent of regular exercise. His restaurant in Bluefield as well as his new restaurant, Key Ingredients For Life at the Historic Fort Chiswell Mansion in Max Meadows, Va., near Wytheville, Va., are doing OK.
“We have enough to pay our employees, stay open and provide a healthy food choice for customers,” Disibbio said. “We are now open in Bluefield from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. for lunch and dinner, Monday through Saturday and we can do some catering on Sunday. These days, a small business owner has to be willing to wear several hats. I’m working longer hours now for less pay to keep things going.”
Disibbio said that he has made some changes following the developments across the street from him. “I used to shop at Food City, but I won’t walk in there at all anymore,” he said. “There has to be a point where enough is enough. Food City is a successful business, and should be successful enough to be secure without doing what they have done.
“The tough thing for me is that we felt like we were providing a good thing for the community,” Disibbio continued. “I believe it’s something that is needed. I look at our situation and think: ‘If I can’t do it, who can do it?’ We sell fresh fish. We don’t have a pantry full of non-perishable canned food. It’s higher quality and it costs more, but it’s real fresh food that people need.”
Although he knows that not every business manager in the Cumberland Road business community can come out and express themselves, Disibbio said that others have expressed similar feelings to him. “In my opinion, it was deliberate,” Disibbio said. “These are tough times in the economy, and that closing really took away a major anchor in the Cumberland Road business community.”
He said that he plans to continue doing what he has been doing to attract customers by advertising, providing high-quality foods and excellent service, but he added that his uphill battle has become a lot steeper in recent months.
— Contact Bill Archer at email@example.com