Kroger officials cut the ribbon on expanding the Epps Bridge location

Supermarkets are an essential and ever-changing business in every city.

On Wednesday, a group of people gathered outside the Epps Village Kroger to celebrate a big change at the store on busy Epps Bridge Parkway in Oconee County.

According to Victor Smith, president of Kroger’s Atlanta Division, an 180,000-square-foot expansion was completed over 14 months at a cost of $13.8 million.

There are four Kroger supermarkets in the immediate Athens area.

Kroger recently renovated the Alps Road store at a cost of $1.7 million and is building a new store to replace the one on Barnett Shoals Road at a cost of $36 million.

“We put our money where our mouth is in Athens,” Smith told the crowd entertained with music and Hairy Dawg from the University of Georgia.

The ribbon cutting also gave Kroger management an opportunity to recognize people who worked on the expansion, from those on the construction side to the office staff.

Tammie Young, corporate affairs manager, also recognized the University of Georgia Campus Pantry, which Kroger supports along with the Northeast Georgia Community Food Bank.

Most campus kitchens serve students on campus, but this one goes out into the community, serving food to seniors in need and working with parents and grandparents with children, Young said.

Store Manager Lusakivana “L” Lassandra also recognized the many employees in the store who worked to keep the store running while construction workers were making changes inside. She introduced the managers of the various departments, such as Fresh Produce, Deli, Meat, Bakery and Pharmacy.

Lassandra, who has worked at the store for 13 years, also recognized several employees who have worked for Kroger for 40 years.

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Smith, the division president, has worked at Kroger for 41 years.

Originally from Compton, California, he spent most of his career in Southern California before moving to the Houston and Memphis divisions. About two years ago, he moved to his current job in Atlanta.

Smith was in college and was already 22 when he got a job as a grocery bagger at Kroger.

“I fell in love with it and decided to stay,” he said of his career in the grocery industry.

“Back in the day, forty years ago, they taught you how to separate the bags. Food stays together, you don’t put bread on the bottom. You have learned the techniques. It’s about making sure you get home with your groceries the way you need them,” he says.

“Normally, as a packer, you are the last face a customer sees, so you smile. You get the chance to do some shopping. All those interactions make you fall in love with the company. That’s what happened to me,” he said.

According to Smith, supermarkets are important in a community.

“Over the course of the pandemic, we have recognized how essential we are to communities,” he said of the way grocery store employees continue their work in the workplace.

That’s another reason why some people last so long in the grocery industry, Smith said.

“It comes down to falling in love with service and serving others,” he said. “People have to eat.”