KINGSPORT — The new Food City at the Crown Point shopping center redevelopment, 1205 N. Eastman Road, will open Wednesday morning — more than a month ahead of schedule.
The store, near the intersection of Fort Henry Drive and Eastman Road, is the anchor of Crown Point and will be managed by long-time store manager Ed Moore, a veteran grocer who oversees packaging of the food donations each year for the Santa Train.
And the store — at almost 55,000 square feet the largest the Abingdon-based grocery chain has ever built — will be followed in December by a Gas-N-Go, the grocery chain’s gasoline sales arm.
Normal store hours will be the same as the old store, from 6 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to midnight Sunday.
Steve Smith, president and chief executive officer of Food City parent company K-VA-T Foods Stores Inc., said credit for the quicker-than-projected opening goes to the city, general contractor J.A. Street, the Food City staff and the dry weather.
However, crucial to the redevelopment, Smith said, was the tax increment financing or TIF, which allows some of the cost of the development to be paid through property tax revenues that otherwise would go to the city and Sullivan County.
This project is receiving $750,000 in TIF, a process in which some of the increased city and county property tax revenues from the redevelopment is set aside for 15 years to help pay for the construction costs.
The Crown Point redevelopment, not counting the Gas-N-Go, is about $10 million.
“It (the redevelopment) was more expensive than it would have been if we had started from scratch,” John Amols, a partner in North Carolina-based Glenwood Development Co., LLC, that owns Crown Point. “TIF helped plug a gap.”
Otherwise, he said the redevelopment would have been delayed or not occurred and Food City may have relocated elsewhere, which is what Smith said would have occurred.
“The TIF funding was crucial in getting the deal done,” Amols said. “Any major redevelopment is really tenant driven.”
TIF had worked for other projects elsewhere in Kingsport and Bristol, Tenn., but Amols and Smith said that Kingsport has been especially aggressive in redevelopment and development. He said the recently opened new Kingsport Pavilion and the East Stone Commons redevelopment of the old Kingsport Mall help attract more retail citywide.
“I think one reason it’s (Kingsport) seen the activity it has is that it’s a business-friendly city that has high ideals but is willing to work with developers,” Smith said.
Other businesses in Crown Point in operation include the established pre-redevelopment businesses of Ming Garden, Burger King, Mail Speciality Shop, Cost Cutters, Cash Advance, Equity One, Pro-Tax, Subway and TCBY. All have moved into newly constructed buildings except Burger King. An existing building once occupied by a Japanese restaurant also is for lease.
“We’re in discussions with a tenant for that space, as well as several other spaces,” Amols said of two or three more retailers that could locate at Crown Point, with two deals nearing closure. He said he hopes the entire center is leased and occupied by mid-2008.
A Perfect Party is scheduled to open before Christmas, while Studio Tan and Fox’s Pizza Den are set to open in early 2008, Amols said.
Largest store design yet
Smith said the Food City design is the largest the chain has ever built, although a couple of stores that were expanded or bought are slightly larger. However, he said the store is still accessible for younger and older patrons alike.
“It’s still, in our mind, very manageable, very shopable,” Smith said.
Although much of the store has taller warehouse-type ceilings, which are two stories tall in the front but sloping to the rear, fluorescent lighting brightens the entire store, supplemented by incandescent lighting in selected areas.
The new Food City — which will open to the public at 10 a.m. Wednesday after employees have stocked fresh produce and meats — will bring the chain’s total to 95 stores.
Longtime store manager Ed Moore, who has worked nearly 50 years in the grocery business, said a prayer and flag-raising ceremony are scheduled, as is a performance by the Dobyns-Bennett pep band.
Five other K-VA-T stores — mostly Food City stores with a few of the smaller Super Dollar stores — are under construction or have plans pending and two more are on the drawing board. Smith said that means the chain his late father started with a single Grundy, Va., store in 1955 likely will top 100 stores by the end of 2008.
Jack Smith, who died in March at age 81, helped celebrate the 50th anniversary by opening a new store in Grundy Nov. 15, 2005, the day after his first store closed.
“He knew well about the plans for this (Crown Point) store. He was very pleased,” Smith said, adding that his father told Moore he’d have more a suitable office than in the old store.
The administrative offices overlook the store with the same kind of clear-glass windows of a community meeting room and demonstration kitchen.
In the region, a new 44,000-squuare-foot store is slated to open in Piney Flats, between Bristol and Johnson City, about this time next year. And the 36,000-square-foot Blountville store is to grow to 44,000 square feet by March.
Mayor Dennis Phillips and Smith late last year expressed concern about Glenwood not starting redevelopment activities soon enough, but Smith said that was all taken care of and that he believes Amols and Glenwood officials simply weren’t used to dealing with a retailer and city ready to move on such a massive project so quickly.
Amols said everyone involved helped work through the issues.
“It was a complicated deal from the outset because of the fact it was a redevelopment of an existing center,” Amols said.
Aside from Food City closing, the other businesses closed only briefly to move to new locations or, in the case of Burger King, operated as usual except for customers facing access issues as the parking lot was reconfigured.
After Glenwood began the redevelopment, Food City plans originally were for the old store at Crown Point to remain in business as the new one was constructed, but Smith earlier this year said that simply became unworkable because of the need to change the parking lot elevation.
The store closed Friday, July 6, and will reopen to the public Nov. 14. The original opening date for the new store if the old store had stayed open was the first quarter of 2008, and later plans called for the new store to open by the second week of December.
Smith said that hopefully parking will be better than it used to be at Crown Point, even though the number of spaces is about the same as before the redevelopment.
In the old design, some parking places were far from businesses, while the new design has storefront along the outer edges of the parking lot.
“It’s more efficient parking is really what it is,” Smith said. Aside from the businesses on the perimeter of the parking, Smith said the parking also is at an angle that allows easier parking.
Inside the store
As for inside the store, Smith said the chain has designed the layout based on what’s worked in other Food City stores.
“A lot of things we’ve incorporated here are things we’ve learned in different stores,” Smith said, adding that the new store shows a commitment to Kingsport.
Among features of the new store are:
• A community meeting room and demonstration kitchen, called The Crown Center and overseen by Catering Coordinator Sue Mallick.
The second-floor space is reachable by stairs and an elevator and already has been reserved for use by the Kiwanis Club, Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce and other groups. It is available for rent to groups, families and clubs for meetings, birthday parties, reunions and other functions.
The room overlooks the store aisles with clear windows.
• A service meat and seafood area at the back of the store. Smith said the emphasis there is on value-added things like pre-marinated and pre-cut meats and custom-cut meats. The staff includes 10 meat cutters and 20 employees overall in the meat and seafood area.
• A ValueCare clinic, where a nurse practitioner will be on duty six days a week to see patients and write prescriptions. That is in cooperation with Mountain States Health Alliance.
• A new sandwich bar, alongside the hot food offered in the Kingsport Cafe. It also has a salad bar and a demonstration cooking area on a cart. Eating areas are downstairs and in a second-floor balcony overlooking the store, reachable by stairs or the elevator.
• A produce section more than double the size of the old store.
• A section for organic and natural foods.
• An enlarged DVD rental operation.
• At least 47 security cameras, which are viewable by store security as well as officials at company headquarters in Abingdon. Smith said the cameras, many displayed prominently, help protect customers and employees.
• Other standard offerings of all Food City stores, including a full selection of frozen, canned and dry goods, as well as the special $1 sections and some seasonal offerings of selected non-grocery items.
During the rebuild
Moore said the city bus service from the Crown Point site to the Colonial Heights Food City, which Food City helped subsidize, will end Nov. 14.
“We had associates who rode the bus out to the Colonial Heights store,” Smith said. Employees temporarily relocated to the Colonial Heights, Weber City, Church Hill, Blountville, Gray and Bristol, Tenn., stores.
Moore said the store will employ 246 to 250 people, compared with 174 at the old store.
“It absolutely overwhelmed us how much of our business we kept,” said Smith, whose chain reimbursed the cost of bus tickets for shoppers who bought a certain amount of groceries at the Colonial Heights store.
“We kept over 70 percent of our business,” Smith said. “We had hoped that we could keep half of it.”
Aside from loyal customers, Smith attributed the retained business to an advertising and marketing campaign by Mike Gilliam, director of advertising. The chain used newspaper and other media ads, marketing, direct mail and the Internet.
The Web site — www.foodcity.com — includes video and still camera updates on the store’s progress. For more information on the store or job applications, call the store at (423) 247-4148 or go to the Web site.
A Food City gasoline station, a Gas-N-Go not in the original plans, is also coming to Crown Point before year’s end.
“We were able to buy the property. John Amols had options on part of it,” Smith said. The rest, he added, K-VA-T bought and put together with the first parcel for a half-acre site for the gasoline operation.
“We hope to have it (Gas-N-Go) operating by the second week in December,” Smith said.
Assistant City Manager for Development Jeff Fleming and Amols pointed out that the Gas-N-Go is being developed without TIF, calling it a spin-off project.
“I’m hopeful there will be additional redevelopment around Crown Point,” Amols said. That could include the neighboring Southland and Green Acres shopping centers, as well as buildings fronting Fort Henry Drive between Regions Bank and the Gas-N-Go.
However, Smith and Moore said that at the core, Food City is first and foremost about groceries, a business in his family’s blood since Jack Smith got into it in 1955.
Smith recalled that when his father was 59, when many people would be eyeing retirement, the chain grew from 11 to 31 stores when it bought out the Food City stores and picked up its employees, including store manager Moore.
“Our slogan is the Food Experts, and that’s what we do best,” Smith said.