published Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Grocery store a coup for urban revival in Chattanooga

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    Construction is scheduled to start June 1 on Enzo’s Market at Main and Long streets.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The creation of a new neighborhood grocery store in the south side of downtown will not threaten the area's major grocery chains, but that's beside the point. The just-announced start-up of Enzo, slated to open by the turn of the year, is noteworthy for both its location -- at 100 W. Main Street, behind Battle Academy -- and its marketing goals. It promises to be the sort of old-time, full-service, good food store that downtown has lacked for decades, and that its reviving urban neighborhoods have wished to see for years.

The privately owned grocery aims to serve the diverse range of consumers in nearby neighborhoods with a full range of options that aren't presently available within the downtown area from the riverfront to the foot of Lookout Mountain to Missionary Ridge. Among its offerings will be competitively priced fresh local meats and produce from area farms, take-out food prepared in its on-site kitchen, an array of standard shelf foods and products, a 125-seat cafe, and an attached wine store.

Enzo will inhabit 17,000-square-feet in a build-out, to begin in June, of the old Hills Florist building. Its comprehensive but cozy store should make a compatible fit in the continuing revival of the Main Street area, and a timely contribution to the growing range of businesses and services that occupy mostly rehabbed buildings there.

Several things make Enzo's endeavor unique. One is that it will help provide an array of healthy whole foods to nearby residents of neighborhoods that are classified as food deserts, a term for areas whose residents often do not have ready access to full-service groceries and fresh produce, fruits and meats. As a consequence, many urban residents develop excessive reliance on quick-stop convenience stores packed with high sugar, low-nutritional, heavily processed foodstuffs that lead to obesity, diabetes and other health issues.

The location of Enzo also helps round out the range of retail services that make revival of mixed-use urban neighborhoods viable and more attractive to new residents. Overcoming the paucity of groceries, dry cleaners, restaurants and retail shops is a key factor in urban revival and the restoration of older neighborhoods.

The difficulty of reviving urban neighborhoods is evident in the effort it took for developers Eric Cummings and Gavin Thomas to get financing for Enzo. Cummings bought the building for the project in 2008, the year that banks, in the wake of the nation's financial implosion, began retreating from making loans for new businesses. He and his partners spent more than two years searching for a bank to finance the grocery, even after they lined up financial commitments from a half-dozen backers. Cummings finally found support from a Durham, N.C., bank that specializes in loans to small businesses.

The group's victory is a welcome one for downtown and the work of urban revival. It also is clearly a testament to the perseverance of its advocates.

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Many people don't understand how many cogs are in the machine of a healthy neighborhood.

Let's hope Mitt Romney doesn't come to town to complain about it. Or our bridges. Oh who am I kidding? He only cares about pandering in swing states.

May 19, 2012 at 1:28 a.m.
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