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Empty "Zombie Stores" Mark a Mysterious Downturn for Amazon Fresh

The Seattle tech giant won't explain the sudden halt in its grocery store expansion plans.

Amazon's supermarket of the future appears to be stuck in a dystopian present.

A growing number of new Amazon Fresh locations—stores promising all sorts of high-tech conveniences, such as a speedy  "Just Walk Out" payment system—are mysteriously sitting dark, according to multiple reports.

Dubbed "zombie stores" by The Information, which first reported on the phenomenon, the dormant locations appear to be fully constructed and ready to open, but the doors remain closed. Amazon won't explain why, either, leaving shoppers and local leaders puzzled about the delays.

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Initial reports indicated at least seven built-out locations sitting idle in California, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. That original tally doesn't include places like Westport, Conn., where residents have been waiting for months for their Amazon Fresh store to open. And waiting. And waiting.

Westport blogger Dan Woog writes that he's been fielding constant questions about the town's store status, after activity ground to a halt at the once-bustling construction site.

"We don't comment on our future roadmap," an Amazon spokesperson told The Westport Journal. Other inquiring media outlets have received matching no-comment replies.

A similar story is also taking place in the suburbs of Chicago and Minneapolis.

"It's just a business decision on Amazon's part, and they're not very good at sharing," Daniel Ritter, the interim community development director in Tinley Park, Ill., griped to his local Patch. Ritter said he hasn't heard from the Seattle company since September about his town's 35,000-square-foot store, which is now fully built, adding that his requests for an update have been ignored.

Same goes for a planned 40,000-square-foot store in Eden Prairie, Minn. "We understand the internal build-out has been delayed but we are not sure why," City Manager Rick Getschow told the Eden Prairie Local News

The sudden stall-out at multiple sites marks a dramatic turn for the once-rapidly expanding Amazon Fresh brand, which successfully opened 44 locations in the U.S. in just two years but none since September.

Perhaps the best attempt at a possible explanation comes via The Real Deal, which covers New York real estate: "It's cheaper for the company to keep the stores in place while not operating, rather than ditch the stores altogether. While the company is on the hook for rent, maintenance and taxes, shutting down a store could also force Amazon to pay a fee for a lease withdrawal or severance to hired employees."

Chris Shott
Chris Shott is the Deputy Editor covering restaurants and groceries for Eat This, Not That! Read more about Chris
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