published Monday, September 26th, 2011

Four stores eye empty Grove Street Center in Chattanooga's Westside

Westside residents met last week at Renaissance Presbyterian Church to discuss the vacant Grove Street Center. They're hoping some businesses can return to the center.
Westside residents met last week at Renaissance Presbyterian Church to discuss the vacant Grove Street Center. They're hoping some businesses can return to the center.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
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The Grove Street Center that once served 3,500 Westside residents and had a Dollar General Store, police precinct, laundromat and a resident-owned restaurant sits empty.

Small Treasures hair salon is gone. American Chicken Fish is gone. And the Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy that once occupied the James A. Henry building across the street also is gone.

"We want to see the stores come back," said Gloria Griffith, a Westside resident of more than 40 years. "We want the beauty shop, the barbershop and the restaurant."

But the Westside community, which includes eight low-income housing sites, is not without hope.

Two prospective merchants say they can have four stores opened in the center if the landowner will rent to them. Thus far he has declined to do so.

In December, residents marched to draw attention to the need for a grocery store in the neighborhood. Meetings were held through the spring and summer, including one this month.

The latest meeting featured Shehnaz Mirza and Karim Badruddin, who say they can pay the asking price to lease a space in the Grove Street Center for a convenience store. They say they can open in six weeks and promise the store will include produce, meat, milk and tobacco, but not alcohol.

But David Collins, the New York-based owner of Grove Street Center, said the space they want -- the former Small Treasures hair salon site -- is too small. It's about the size of a garage, he said, and by the time the shelves and refrigerators are in, there will be room for nothing else.

"I'll speak with anybody, but you've got to understand, you can't put a grocery in a 480-foot storefront. It can't happen," he said. "Then you deter someone who wants to put a full-size grocery there."

Collins said an empty building is no good to him and he wants to get it filled.

"I'm open to anyone who wants to come down and put something in the facility," he said. "My number and contacts are all over the building."

Mirza and Badruddin, who are married, said they don't want to lease a larger space until they know how much business they'll get. So they presented another plan to Collins last week.

The couple say they have 15 years' experience operating businesses. They received a business license in 2009 to operate Asian Attraction in Northgate Mall and on Hamilton Place Boulevard. Badruddin also holds a business license to operate Carisma in Northgate Mall.

They'll operate the convenience store, they said, while another friend will lease space for a hair-supply store, another will do a laundromat and another a dollar store. They say they're prepared to open all the stores in three months.

Collins hasn't yet responded to the group's plan.

The Grove Street Center, deemed the Westside commercial strip in the late 1990s, has been vacant since late 2010. The last business, Special Treasures, was gone before Christmas, Griffith said.

Dollar General, the center's anchor, closed in the summer of 2010, taking away access to food and other grocery products for the more than 1,000 elderly and disabled residents who live in the community.

The closest grocery is Buehler's Food Market, about 11/2 miles away on Market Street. Residents have said it's a hard trek for people in wheelchairs, especially when they're trying to carry bags of groceries.

Collins said it's partly the residents' fault that the Grove Street Center is without business.

"The community itself robbed the laundromat," he said. "They got into an altercation with the Dollar General store and they parked their cars in the back of the building and threw garbage around."

Griffith said Collins' statements are untrue, though she acknowledged there have been some problems.

She said the change machine was taken from the laundromat after the business closed. She said residents had disagreements with the management at the Dollar General store because residents felt they were not always treated nicely. Griffith said store operators would tell women their purses were too big to bring inside or that they couldn't bring their whole family in at one time.

Dozens of Westside residents signed agreements saying they would support a grocery store if it came into the area. Other residents verbally committed to notifying store owners if they saw people stealing.

Griffith said only some people steal and residents will try to prevent it from happening.

"If you've got children who've got easy hands, you need to tell them to keep their hands away," she told a group of about 70 residents and community organizers last week.

"We know who the shoplifters are."

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about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.

"The community itself robbed the laundromat," - As in the Community organized itself and multiple Flash Mobs stampeded the store and stole everything they could carry.

"We know who the shoplifters are."

Yeah it's the community!

September 26, 2011 at 9:47 a.m.

With that said if business owners are interested in opening stores to fill the vacancies then that would be a business owners venture. I personally would like to see if this ordeal has changed the mindset of the community.

September 26, 2011 at 9:50 a.m.

My first post was in reference to the reason Dollar General pulled out.

September 26, 2011 at 9:51 a.m.
fedup350 said...

40 years living in the projects? On the gpvernment dole for 40 years? I wonder how many kids and grand kids she has now that will also live and reproduce on the back of the working taxpayers? That is amazing, not surprising. But still mind boggling. College hill courts is crime ridden and has had numurous shootings in the news. No wonder they can't keep stores there. Here is a thought, get a job and move to a better area. Instead they live for free, eat for free and then sit on their lazy butts complaining.

September 26, 2011 at 10:52 a.m.
amnestiUSAF84 said...

fedup350 said... 40 years living in the projects? On the gpvernment dole for 40 years? I wonder how many kids and grand kids she has now that will also live and reproduce on the back of the working taxpayers?

You really need to do some research and learn a bit of Chattanooga's history before jumping in with your lunatic and racist rantings. Although I believe Ms. Putnam got the 40 years wrong, the story doesn't say Mrs. Griffith lived in public housing for 40 years, just that she's lived on the Westside for 40 years. There's a difference. As there are more than public housing projects on the Westside.

As for a little of Mrs. Griffith's background. If this is the same individual I think she is, there's a very interesting piece of local history behind her and her husband. As they're one of the first local interracial couples to defy the laws of their time to marry. They were basically run out of Chattanooga decades ago because of that decision to fall in love and marry. They only moved back, I believe, because Mrs. Griffith's elderly mother became too frail and ill to care for a grown younger disabled daughter, who is wheelchair bound(although in a wheelchair, that daughter has worked for the state of TN for several years). Mrs. Griffith's mother(a retired nurse), by the way, owns her home in Chattanooga. I thought I'd throw that in before you start on yet another one of your lunatic racist ranting-attacking her mother and sister just for good measure.

September 27, 2011 at 1:53 a.m.
fedup350 said...

Amnestiusaf84 I didn't mention race at all in my post, not once. You do and you talk about an interracial couple. You are the biggest racsist on here and then you try to hide that fact by calling eveyon3e else a racist. You tell me to do research and then you go on to make up your own facts as you see them. You need to get out more, the westside is all secrion eight. No one in their right mind would want to live and pay to do it. No one cares about the interracial couple except you the racist. You like all liberals try to act superior while showing your obvious arrogance and stupidity. You are a racist, arrogant. Stupid person who cant complete a single post without totally distorting the facts. In short you are an idiot!

September 27, 2011 at 8:55 a.m.
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