Nichols Hills Drugstore, the oldest tenant of Nichols Hills Plaza, is moving out after learning from the plaza's owner, Chesapeake Energy, that it would no longer be included in plans for a new grocery.
J. Braden Black, owner of Nichols Hills Drugstore, is set to move operations to 7538 N Berkley on Jan. 28, ending 49 years at Nichols Hills Plaza.
While Black was worried about uncertainty surrounding a previously planned replacement for one-time neighbor Crescent Market, Black said his departure was ultimately triggered by a request by Chesapeake officials to move into a larger, more expensive space elsewhere in the plaza.
“I'd be disingenuous if I said I wasn't disappointed in how we've been misled,” Black said. “But that's not why we're moving. What they offered was too big and more expensive than what we wanted to pay.”
Officials with Chesapeake Energy declined to comment on the drugstore's move or whether they plan to move forward with a new grocery in the plaza.
The departure of the drugstore continues years of uncertainty about plans for the shopping center where it was once common to see the same anchor tenants remain in place for decades.
Nichols Hills Drugstore and the neighboring Crescent Market were retail anchors for the area for almost five decades when the shopping plaza was purchased by Chesapeake Energy for $27.5 million in January 2006.
Two years after the purchase, officials with Chesapeake shared a master plan with tenants that proposed reconstruction of the older, south half of the plaza — home to both Crescent Market and Nichols Hills Drugstore.
In October 2011, Crescent Market owner Robert Pemberton decided to close his doors after Chesapeake officials sought to hike his rent by $6,000 per month.
That, in turn, shut off a convenient supply of fresh meat and produce to the legendary lunch counter at the Nichols Hills Drugstore.
As Black prepared to shut down the lunch counter over public pleas to keep it open, he was asked by Chesapeake officials to move to a smaller, temporary space in the plaza.
In a January 2012 interview with The Oklahoman, Chesapeake's senior vice president of land, Henry Hood, said a new grocery would replace Crescent and would also feature a lunch counter with a bigger menu and more seating. Black said he was told his drugstore would be incorporated into the rebuilt grocery, which Chesapeake officials once indicated would open by fall 2012.
In a May 3, 2012, interview with The Journal Record, former Nichols Hills Mayor Sody Clements noted Chesapeake officials had assured her at the time they were hoping to have a store open by fall 2012. She was told the store would sell more mainstream grocery staples in contrast to a Whole Foods opened nearby at Chesapeake-owned Classen Curve.
Whole Foods and the remainder of Classen Curve is outside Nichols Hills city limits, and the drugstore is moving to an Oklahoma City address.
After the loss of Crescent Market, sales tax collections for Nichols Hills dropped 17 percent, for the year ending June 30, 2011, when compared to the same period the previous year, Oklahoma Tax Commission records show.
Nichols Hills City Manager David Poole and Mayor Peter Hoffman did not return numerous calls from The Oklahoman this past week inquiring about how the loss of retail and sales tax revenues at Nichols Hills Plaza would impact the town's operations.
Construction on the former Crescent Market space started and stopped repeatedly over the last year with no announcement of an operator.
In a June 7, 2012, story, Reuters reported internal records at Chesapeake showed the energy company was planning to go into the grocery business itself and put two grocery store managers on its payroll with combined salaries exceeding $200,000.
Black said he is uncertain whether the grocery is still on track.
“They (Chesapeake officials) came in six months ago, and said they weren't going to build me a space in the market,” Black said. “They had another space across the way, but those folks didn't want to move out. So we got a take it or leave it on another spot on the west side. But it was too big for us.”
Pemberton, who has since retired from the grocery business, said he is not surprised that a market has failed to materialize as planned.
“It's pretty much going the way I thought it would,” Pemberton said. “It's more than they really planned on — the grocery business is not easy. And they're used to dealing with a lot better percentages.”