The First Avenue Hy-Vee store is shown in May 2024, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Hy-Vee announced the store will close on June 23. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — As city leaders scramble to find a replacement after Hy-Vee announced the closure of its First Avenue store last week, some City Council members questioned whether or not the store’s corporate office would even allow a different grocery to move into that location.

City Manager Jeff Pomeranz provided an update during the May 14, 2024, Cedar Rapids City Council meeting on the closure of the store at 1556 First Ave. NE, in a core city neighborhood where many residents lack transportation to reach other stores or pharmacies.

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Pomeranz showed a timeline of previous meetings city staff had with Hy-Vee and the owner of the First Avenue building, culminating with a message from the owner on Nov. 15, 2023, stating: “I am pleased to announce that we have successfully extended the lease with Hy-Vee for another 5 years.”

He noted that the building has since changed hands, with a new owner as of January 2024.

Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell received a phone call from Hy-Vee’s corporate office on May 9, stating the store would close on June 23.

“The city is treating this as they would any unexpected emergency,” O’Donnell said during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Council member Dale Todd said the city had known about the potential closure for some time.

“We were asked by Hy-Vee last year to keep this quiet,” he said, citing the “trauma” the news could create among the neighbors and store employees. “As a city, we’re not great at keeping secrets, but this is one we did keep.”

Todd was on the City Council when the city provided incentives for Hy-Vee to upgrade the First Avenue site 20 years ago.

As Pomeranz suggested the city might provide transportation or other interim solutions, council member Ann Poe noted that many neighbors who walk to the store make multiple trips, as they cannot carry too much, with some even using walkers to reach the store’s pharmacy.

“To say I’m sad is an understatement,” she said. “This is a travesty.”

Council member David Maier asked about any non-compete clauses for the First Avenue site, while council member Scott Olson, a Realtor, cautioned the council to “be careful.”

“We have to make sure we don’t beat this thing to death,” he said, saying that could make it more difficult to find a replacement.

Olson cited other businesses, such as Casey’s, which continue to pay leases after closing, to prevent competing convenience stores from moving into their former locations.

Hy-Vee has continued to lease its former space near Lindale Mall on Collins Road NE, he noted, more than two years after the store closed in January 2022.

Pomeranz said the city has not seen the lease terms of the First Avenue property.

“We want to make sure another grocery store can go there,” he said of the site, noting it’s possible Hy-Vee may want to keep competitors out. “I hope it isn’t, but we want to make sure Hy-Vee will allow that.”

O’Donnell said suggestions have been offered, including the potential for a nonprofit consortium to operate a grocery store, as Matthew 25 has done in northwest Cedar Rapids.

“We will find a solution,” she said, after nearly an hour of council discussion on the issue. “That I do know.”

The Cedar Rapids City Council discussed proactive steps the city had taken to keep Hy-Vee at its First Avenue location during the May 14, 2024, council meeting. (photo/Cindy Hadish)