KINGSPORT - Food City will not remain in operation at the Crown Point shopping center during an onsite store relocation as originally planned, company officials told employees Thursday.
Steve Smith, president and chief executive officer of K-VA-T Food Stores Inc. that does business as Food City, said late Thursday afternoon that company officials determined it simply wasn't practical to keep the old store open while the parking lot elevation is increased.
"We're all nervous about closing the store. It's not something that we wanted to do," Smith said.
He said the store, near the intersection of Eastman Road and Fort Henry Drive, will close for five months this year, starting shortly after July 4. It should reopen by around Dec. 10, he said.
However, he said Food City plans no layoffs among the 174 employees there. Smith said employees will be offered temporary assignments elsewhere, including Food City stores in Colonial Heights, Blountville, Gray, Weber City and Church Hill.
He said Food City also is working with the Kingsport Area Transit System (KATS) to run buses to the Food City in the Colonial Heights community for customers in the vicinity of the Crown Point store.
"We're going to make it easy and safe for them," Smith said.
In addition, Smith said the grocery chain plans to offer to reimburse bus-riding shoppers for their fares if they spend about $20 on groceries.
"We knew that there were going to be some obstacles," Smith said of plans announced last year to have no more than a few weeks between closure of the old store and opening of the new one.
Since the new store will overlap the old site slightly, Smith said company officials already knew keeping the old one in operation would have required cutting its space down to about 70 percent of the current 40,000 square feet.
"The thing we didn't anticipate is the landlord (Glenwood Development Co.) had to raise the parking lot," Smith said of plans to increase the height of the lot an average of two feet on the western end of the center where the new grocery store will be and near the old store site on the southern side.
He said Food City officials learned of the parking lot issue in April and met with engineers and city officials before deciding to close the existing store in July.
Smith said the dirt, rock, gravel and mud from the parking lot work - not to mention the temporary closure of parking sections - could have caused "the potential of getting in a quagmire" severely limiting access.
"What we've decided to do here is close the store right around the Fourth of July, really run a bulldozer through it and have it reopen by December," Smith said.
When completed, the new store will be the largest in the Abingdon-based chain, which has 92 Food City stores and four Super Dollar smaller-scale stores.
J.A. Street of Blountville is the general contractor, while Jerry Smith of Greeneville is the architect.
The new building will have more than 54,000 square feet, not counting an 8,000-square-foot mezzanine that will include a second-floor community meeting room and a full demonstration kitchen with a full-time chef.
It also will have a ValuCare Clinic with a nurse practitioner from Mountain States Health Alliance, the fourth such clinic in the Food City chain. Customers of the store's pharmacy can have prescriptions filled at other Food City pharmacies until the store reopens, Smith said.
Smith said the public will be kept abreast of the new store construction through newspaper ads, direct mail and a Web camera link at www.foodcity.tv.
"We want folks to realize there's still some small businesses here that are still in business," Smith said. "In our mind, it's the best location in Kingsport for a supermarket."