ATLANTA — In March of 2012, there was excitement building at the Historic Westside Village in Vine City. At the time, Mayor Kasim Reed along with a couple of councilmembers and representatives from Walmart broke ground on a new Walmart Supercenter at 825 MLK Jr. Dr. NW in Atlanta.
The property was empty at the time but once housed a Publix. At the time, 11Alive reported there were just five small grocery stores in the immediate area, which were heavy on snacks and prepared food, and light on fresh fruits and vegetables. Ivory Young, who was an Atlanta City Councilmember at the time, spoke about the importance of this Walmart coming to the neighborhood.
"To have fresh food and produce available and assessable for senior citizens and for families throughout this community is our priority," Young explained.
While data from USDA doesn't verify Vine City as a food desert, those who live in the area say they "absolutely" live in one – including councilman Young back in 2012.
In January 2013, the Walmart opened its doors and has stayed open ever since. However, in May 2022, the store was forced to close after a fire was set inside the building. The next day, it partially reopened the store and provided curbside pickup for its pharmacy customers until crews were able to make repairs and fully reopen this store.
Atlanta Fire and Police would be called back to the store for an intentional fire just before Christmas in 2022. On Dec. 24, the store posted on its Facebook page, "Due to unforeseen circumstances, Walmart store 3008 with be closed for the remainder of the day. All pharmacy prescriptions will be transferred to the nearest local Walmart: 1801 Howell Mill Road NW Atlanta, Georgia 30318. Sorry for the inconvenience, we look forward to serving your needs once the store is back up and running."
Just days after the post, a fire was set inside the Walmart on Howell Mill Road. Atlanta Police and Fire responded to a fire in the clothing section on Dec. 28. The store was temporarily closed. On January 13, 2023, the store posted on their Facebook page, "Good Morning Customers, 1801 Howell Mill Rd, Atlanta GA Walmart is temporarily closed. We’re sorry for any inconvenience this may cause. Please visit our Cascade location (1105 Research Center Dr, Atlanta GA) for service. Thank you!"
11Alive stopped by the store on Jan. 16 and saw work being done to hopefully reopen the store soon. However, when 11Alive stopped by the store on MLK. Jr. Dr. NW, the entrance is boarded up and there was no sign of work being done.
11Alive drove over to the Cascade location, where customers from both stores are being sent. From Vince City, it was about a 15 minutes drive, but there was no traffic on Monday. It's about a 20-mile trip from the Howell Mill Road location. One thing to point out, there is a Kroger next door to the Walmart on Howell Mill Road. The closest grocery store 11Alive could find to the MLK. Jr. Dr. NW location is three miles away on Donnelly Avenue SW.
A quick google search confirms the Howell Mill Road store is "temporarily closed," but when you search the Vine City location, it reads "permanently closed," which has many in the area wondering about the future of the store.
Atlanta City Councilman Byron Amos put out the following statement:
Recently, there has been an increase in speculation regarding the ongoing concerns with the temporary closing of the Walmart location in Vine City on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. I have maintained ongoing communication with Walmart corporate and store leadership. At this moment, Walmart has not made a decision on the next steps for the location. As of now, information related to the store closure are only rumors. My office is working with Walmart Inc. to plan the next possible course for the store. I recognize the deep void that the temporary closure has left the community. I am committed to working with Walmart, NPU-L, and members of the community to find a successful resolution to this ongoing store closure.
11Alive reached out to Walmart on Monday afternoon but has heard back yet regarding an update on both store locations. 11Alive also reached out to Atlanta Police regarding the investigation into the fires but due to Monday being a holiday, our requests could not be fulfilled.