With a simple, three-paragraph fax to Mandeville Mayor Donald Villere, Albertsons announced Tuesday that it will close its Mandeville store Feb. 13, perhaps paving the way for another retailer to take over the prime location near the intersection of U.S. 190 and Causeway Boulevard.
The closure, which will affect 83 employees of the Mandeville store, will likely fuel speculation about Whole Foods, which has long been rumored to be interested in putting a store on the north shore.
A Whole Foods representative said Tuesday that the grocery company had nothing to report.
Such announcements normally are made in the company’s quarterly earnings calls, spokeswoman Kristina Bradford said. The next one of those is expected to be held in early February, she said.
“We are always looking for new places,” Bradford said.
Whole Foods now has five stores in Louisiana: two in New Orleans, one in Metairie, one in Baton Rouge and one in Lafayette. The north shore’s high average income and large residential population would seem to be ideal for the upscale grocer, but Bradford said a number of factors impact decisions on new locations.
That hasn’t stopped the speculation, which has been rampant, most notably on a Facebook page titled “Bring Whole Foods to Madisonville/Covington Louisiana.” Though the last post on the page Tuesday afternoon was from Nov. 18, that post asserted that the Albertsons to Whole Foods switch was a “done deal” and that an announcement would be made in January.
Rumors also have circulated among members of the Mandeville City Council since at least the summer, according to Councilman Rick Danielson. Danielson said he would welcome the grocer to Mandeville.
Another councilman, Ernest Burguières, agreed.
“I think it would be a big plus for the whole community,” he said. “A lot of people, including my wife, shop at Whole Foods on the south shore, and it would be great to have it here.”
In the immediate term, however, Villere said he hopes some provision will be made for the current store’s employees. The fax from Albertsons said none of the employees is eligible to claim “bumping rights” — in other words, to demand a transfer to another store — and that those not transferred would lose their jobs. The employees are not represented by a union, the letter noted.
Villere also said it is impossible to tell at this point what impact the closure will have on the city’s finances. Mandeville, like many cities of its size, relies heavily on sales taxes from grocery and drug stores.
“It’s certainly going to have an impact,” Villere said. But, he added, he didn’t expect the store, which lies along the heavily traveled and newly expanded 190 corridor through Mandeville, to remain vacant for long.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.