ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) Lidl, an international grocery chain, owns millions of dollars worth of land in the Roanoke Valley and Christiansburg. For several years its sites have been sitting vacant, but a WDBJ7 investigation has revealed the company no longer intends to build stores on any of the properties.
Lidl is known for offering groceries and general merchandise at discounted prices. Its only store in our region is on Piedmont Place in Danville, but several years ago it appeared the chain would be opening stores closer to Roanoke.
Salem's economic development director, Melinda Payne, was looking forward to seeing Lidl in her city.
"We received word that they wanted to expand into our market and Salem was one of the first places they wanted to come," Payne told WDBJ7.
Lidl purchased a lot at 922 West Main Street, next to Lowe's, in 2017. The company paid $4.6 million dollars for the property.
Early on, Payne said Lidl was moving aggressively to build a store in Salem, submitting a formal site plan to the city.
"Things were progressing very well, and then towards the end of 2017 things began to slow down," Payne said.
Around that same time, grading was underway at a site on Valley Gateway Boulevard next to the Bonsack Kroger in Roanoke County. Lidl paid $2.1 million to buy the property in 2016. Ten months later a building permit was issued and, for several months, the site was being prepared for construction.
A few miles north, near Hollins, Lidl bought several pieces of land along Williamson Road and demolished a pizza restaurant to make way for construction there.
Work at both Roanoke County sites stopped abruptly in the fall of 2017.
"You've got to look at the bigger picture of what has happened and there is a larger story," said Joy Bhadury, Dean of Radford University's Davis College of Business and Economics.
Bhadury said Lidl entered the American grocery market with big plans.
"The business outcomes didn't quite pan out," Bhadury said of Lidl's initial plans.
Lidl is based in Germany and operates more than 10,000 stores in 29 countries. It came to the U.S. in 2015 and quickly started buying property for stores on the East Coast.
After buying four sites in our region, Lidl underwent a change in leadership. A new CEO was hired to run the grocery chain's parent company, Schwarz Gruppe.
"That indicates they had a reckoning," Bhadury said of the leadership change.
Bhadury said Lidl scaled back on its initial expansion plans, which likely impacted sites in our region and across the United States.
Among the sites impacted was a property on North Franklin Street in Christiansburg, which Lidl purchased in December 2016.
Joel Humphreys was involved in the transaction as a realtor. He said Lidl obtained a building permit and began work on its Christiansburg property a short time later.
"They put in all of the drainage for the parking lot," Humphreys said, adding that the work stopped in late 2017.
As the North Franklin property sat idle, Humphreys said word began to spread in the real estate community that Lidl might be interested in selling its property. He contacted the company to pass along several offers from investors.
"We brought offers to them and they countered our offer with a price that was quite a bit higher than what they purchased (the land) for, and that's where the negotiations stopped," Humphreys said.
Back in Salem, Melinda Payne was keeping an eye on the Lidl property along West Main.
"We followed up with numerous calls, emails, and texts, trying to find out what was going on. Finally, in July of last year, we were informed that the project was no longer viable," Payne said.
Not only has the Lidl project in Salem stalled, WDBJ7 has learned Lidl's plans to build stores on all four of the sites it owns in the Roanoke and New River Valleys have officially been called off.
After contacting Lidl last week with questions about the properties, the company's director of communications Will Harwood contacted WDBJ7 to confirm the grocery chain has no plans to build stores on the land it currently owns in Roanoke County, Salem, and Christiansburg.
"These are not sites we intend to build on," Harwood told WDBJ7 in a phone interview.
Harwood went on to say that Lidl is "eager to serve customers" in our part of Virginia, but the sites currently owned by the company "do not offer the convenience we hope to deliver for our customers."
While Payne says she's disappointed Lidl won't be coming to Salem, she's actively working to attract a new investor to the company's high-traffic location along West Main.
"We're always looking for new and bigger opportunities and we're open for business!" Payne said with a smile.
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