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Food City breaks ground in Piney Flats

JEFF KEELING • Aug 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM

This community’s “certain vibrancy” hit a critical mass recently, and one result is its selection as a site for regional grocer Food City’s 95th store.

“If you’d told me five or 10 years ago that we’d be building a store here in Piney Flats, I might have given you somewhat of a curious look,” Food City CEO Steve Smith said during groundbreaking ceremonies Friday.

“When you’re in our business you look for jobs, and you look for rooftops going in, and when you get away from this location you can understand pretty easily why we believe very strongly that this will be a very, very good location for a lot of years,” Smith said.

Up to 150 new jobs should be created when the approximately 43,000-square-foot store opens near the intersection of U.S. Highway 11E and Allison Road next year, Smith said. He said J.A. Street and Associates will oversee the project, which Food City is undertaking in partnership with Mitch Cox Development.

The land the project will occupy is partially in Johnson City due to strip annexation, with the rest in Sullivan County. The first 300 feet back from U.S. 11E is inside city limits, though the store itself will be further back from the road than that.

Cox will develop an additional 30,000 or so square feet in connected space, and also offer outparcels, Smith said. He attributed the area’s growth to local leadership.

“We have a proactive government and proactive business leaders here in this area that have gone after development and gone after jobs,” Smith said.

While it leases the majority of its stores, Food City will own this one, the company’s vice president of real estate said Friday.

Lou Scudere said he had had his eye on Piney Flats’ potential for about a decade before things started to jell during the past year.

“It looks a little better and it looks a little better, and finally it hits a critical mass and you can feel comfortable with being able to make the kind of investment that we have to make, which is substantial, and feel reasonably comfortable that you’re going to get an appropriate return on investment,” Scudere said of the site selection process.

Scudere said recent technological advances have made his job as much science as it is art.

“With geographic information systems and the kind of information that you have available at your fingertips, it is a lot more quantitative than it has been in the past.”

In addition to specific location, road access is one key for site selectors, and Scudere said the Piney Flats site is going to have three access points — the highway, Allison and Pickens Bridge roads.

“That’s stout, there just isn’t really any other way to describe it,” Scudere said.

“Today’s consumers are so time-pressed, whatever you can do to leverage their convenience is one of the things you try to achieve.”

In addition to a promising population already in place, Scudere said the growth projections for the new store’s trade area are very strong.

The new store will include a bakery/deli, floral boutique, video department, pharmacy, “Gas N’ Go” fueling center, and a ValuCare Health Clinic.

Smith closed his remarks with a vow to continue Food City’s community involvement.

“One of the pillars of our company is to be able to give back to the community and make it a better place to live, to work and to educate your kids ... and we’re going to continue to do that here in the Tri-Cities, in East Tennessee and in Southwest Virginia,” Smith said.

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