Read Local

October 11th, 2019

Elviss Stepherson Cake

(published in the Daily Memphian)

(photo, from the Superlo Foods website: Elvis with the cake the Stephersons made for him at one of their stores when he came home from the army. What the hell, I'm going with the Big Star at Poplar and Perkins.)


A group of us have lunch every week, a varied and well-aged collection of guys, certainly seasoned but perhaps a little too salty, and definitely not suited to every taste. One is a Mississippi transplant who, while very involved in his adopted city, hates it when we go off on a Memphis memory tear.

Brace yourself, Harry, because here I go.

The easternmost storefronts fronting Poplar in what is now the Laurelwood Collection used to be anchored on one end by Crook-Hudson Drug Store – and everybody knows that’s where Charlie Eatherly used to jerk sodas and slip you the occasional free Coke – and everybody knows that Putt Putt was behind the drug store and that Brenda Payne later married the guy who owned it, Aubrey Smith. On the other end was Stepherson’s Big Star – and everybody knows that Mr. Stepherson was always there, and he knew us, and we knew his daughter, Judy, because she was in our class at White Station, and so was Brenda, and Charlie was a year ahead of us.

And all of that brings us, of course, to Kroger removing The Memphis Flyer from all of its stores next week.

Such is the stuff of Memphis connections, for better or worse, our ability to take the smallest of threads and tie it to the deepest of our memories to form our opinion about what matters and what doesn’t around here.

This thread began when I read in The Daily Memphian last week that Kroger was donating one of its abandoned stores to Superlo Foods and thereby, as Kroger has positioned it, helping to return a large full-service grocery store to Orange Mound, an oasis in one of city’s food deserts. Superlo is the Stepherson family, its nine stores around Memphis first cousins to Stepherson’s Big Star.

Kroger called the donation “unprecedented” and made a number of sound bite-worthy comments. No comment was made about the fact that they closed the store in the first place when it couldn’t meet corporate standards set in Cincinnati. Meanwhile, when asked how Superlo could make the store work, Superlo Foods President, Randy Stepherson said, “I don’t think it will have more challenges than the rest of our stores have – keeping them staffed, keeping them stocked, keeping employees and customers happy.” There you go, a Mr. Stepherson who sounds just like the one I knew.

Then I heard that Kroger was pulling The Memphis Flyer, and all free local publications for that matter, from its stores. That tied the knot in the thread. The Memphis Flyer is part of Contemporary Media, and everything they publish and do is as local as heat in August and the argument over wet or dry, as local as this publication, as local as me. I write here. I wrote for Contemporary Media’s Memphis magazine when it was in diapers and I was skinny.

Kroger is as local as the Starbucks lattes sold in some of its stores.

Kroger serves as a good corporate citizen in its many communities, and its generous support of the Mid-South Food Bank here is one example, and the grand gesture with its property in Orange Mound is another. However, Kroger can be truly tone deaf about truly local connections. Losing The Memphis Flyer is one example, stocking Kroger brand “Carolina-Influenced” and “Nashville Hot Chicken” barbecue potato chips is another.

Sources told me that Kroger’s corporate position regarding the removal of free publications is that “no one reads print anymore.”

That’s interesting since The Memphis Flyer’s pick-up rate from Kroger is 95%. In numbers, that means that about 8,500 people pick up The Memphis Flyer every week at a Kroger.

Until next week.

What Kroger is really doing in all their cities is figuring out how to make money off the small space allotted to free publications with no consideration given to the differences in those cities or those publications. I believe the buzzword term is monetizing – you know, like charging you 50 cents to get your own money back as cash.

That’s happening to local journalism, too, with fewer and fewer exceptions – like The Daily Memphian, and our friends over at Contemporary Media.

By the way, you can pick up The Memphis Flyer from the rack at the Superlo on Spottswood. And you can pick one up at Golf & Games Family Park out off Summer, too. That’s the place Brenda and Aubrey Smith grew from that first Putt Putt.

I’m a Memphian, and I read local.

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