The Kroger Company of Michigan announced this morning that it will buy all seven area Hiller’s Markets.
Ken McClure, consumer communication manager for Kroger of Michigan, confirmed the sale, saying the company will close in early July and hopes to “quickly convert and continue to operate six of the seven stores” as Kroger stores.
“We will assume the lease at 3010 Union Lake Road in Commerce Township but will not operate at that location because of the recently built Kroger store and fuel center across the street,” McClure said.
Current Hiller’s associates, according to McClure, will be encouraged to apply for jobs within the Kroger company.
“Hiller’s has a decades-long reputation in the area and we look forward to operating those as Kroger stores,” said McClure.
Hiller’s Markets was started 75 years ago by Sid Hiller. Jim Hiller is the current president and his son, Justin, is vice president of the family-owned grocery store chain.
Justin Hiller, would not comment on how the sale came about, saying only that it was a financial decision.
“It’s a sad day for me but at the same time offers an opportunity to care for the employees and that was important to me,” said Hiller, who also said he will not be staying on in any role.
Hiller also noted that Kroger has a union (not all of Hiller’s employees are union) and they have a contractual obligation and the union will continue.
Brian Collins, a 27-year employee and currently a meat cutter at the Hiller’s Northville store, said employees heard rumors months ago but were told nothing.
Collins said like many Hiller’s employees, they found out when Kroger made the announcement this morning.
“So far, nobody has told me about anything,” said Collins. “What about our vacation time? Our personal time? We signed a new contract in September and took $1-per-hour pay cut across the board.”
The last Hiller’s store to open was in October 2013 in South Lyon.
It opened with much fanfare and featured a craft beer and wine bar and a demonstration kitchen. The Hiller’s location that will not operate as a Kroger store anymore — on Union Lake Road — was a former Farmer Jack store that Jim Hiller bought when that chain was sold to A&P in the ’90s.
In October, Hiller’s launched a discount fuel rewards program redeemable at Speedway stations.
Mary Spencer, 56, culinary instructor at Taste: A Cook’s Place in downtown Northville, said she was a little shocked to hear the news of Hiller’s selling to Kroger. As a longtime Hiller’s shopper, she said she views their stores as more of an “old-time kind of place where I can order something special if need be.”
“I am worried about Kroger taking away Hiller’s beautiful fish and meat departments,” Spencer said. “You can get meat and fish at other stores but not like Hiller’s.”
Spencer, who lives in Northville, also noted that on her side of town, they don’t have stores specialty stores like Nino Salvaggio’s or Papa Joes Gourmet Market.
Spencer relies on Hiller’s service and special product and produce needed for her monthly cooking classes.
“I can go into into Hiller’s and ask for special cuts and have them grind them for me if need be.” I can order specialty items, too.
For example, Spencer recently needed ground pork liver. “They got it for me, ground it and now I don’t know where I will get items like that. “
It’s also Hiller’s produce that Spencer adores. “They carry a lot of specialty produce. Last year I was able to buy fresh morel mushrooms by the pound.”
At issue with Spencer, is most of the Hiller’s stores are on the west side of town.
“They carried a lot of Michigan products, too and other specialties like a section on British foods,” Spencer said. “I respected Jim Hiller for that. He really tried to really cater to his customers and their needs.”