Food City eyes downtown Chattanooga for grocery store, Gas 'N Go outlet

Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Food City supermarket on Brainerd Road as shown in 2018

Food City is looking to locate the first full-scale supermarket in downtown Chattanooga.

The Abingdon, Virginia-based grocery chain, which already operates more than two dozen Food City stores in the Chattanooga region, is developing plans to locate a unique 2-story grocery outlet downtown as part of a new development on the site of the former Carter Distributing Co. warehouse along Broad Street between Main and 13th Streets.

Steve Smith, president and CEO of Food City, said Thursday that Food City is developing plans to build a new 48,000-square-foot supermarket along with a Food City Gas 'N Go fuel station on the 5.7-acre site at 1305 Broad Street.

"Certainly we've heard from a lot of our downtown customers expressing the need for a new supermarket in downtown Chattanooga," Smith said. "We try to listen to our customers - that's what good companies do - and we recognize that with all of the building and new residents coming downtown there is a demand for such a store."

photo Photo by Dave Flessnre / The abandoned former Carter Distributing Co. warehouse at 1305 Broad Street may be replaced with a new 2-story Food City supermarket if developers and city planners approve the downtown project.

Chattanooga downtown boosters have been eager to bring a major supermarket to the inner city for decades, especially following the closing of the Grocery Bar on Main Street in 2015 after operating only a couple of years and the shutdown of the Buehler's grocery store in the 400 block of Market Street in 2017 after operating 105 years.

Food City operates other grocery outlets nearby in St. Elmo and on E. 23rd Street, but Smith said the proposed Broad Street location could serve residents, workers and visitors in downtown Chattanooga. Smith said the developer, who is declined to identify, is also looking to include a Starbucks coffee outlet, a dining area, patio space and other amenities in the proposed development.

"We're very excited about the possibilities and I think it will be a unique opportunity for us," Smith said.

The proposal for the new Food City is expected to be considered in December or in early 2021 by Chattanooga's Form-Based Code Committee, which was developed to promote urban development that conforms with downtown and North Shore policies set by the city. Food City and developers will meet with neighbors in the downtown area in a zoom meeting next Tuesday, Smith said.

"We've been working with.a developer on a proposed project and one of the steps we need to take to move forward is to meet with the neighborhood and get their input about this project," he said.

River City Co., the downtown development group which has helped spur nearly $2 billion of new and proposed development in and around downtown Chattanooga over the past three decades, has been pushing to bring a grocery chain downtown for years. Publix and Whole Foods (formerly Greenlife Grocery) located stores on the North Shore over the 21 years, but no major supermarkets have operated in the main downtown area.

"Having fresh produce and a full-service grocery store downtown certainly increases the livability of our city and for many people it will provide a pedestrian-friendly alternative to having to drive elsewhere to shop," said Amy Donahue, marketing director for the River City Co. "Having a nearby grocery store where you could walk to or hop on a bus and easily visit is very important to many people when they are trying to determine where to live."

The site of the proposed new Food City was formerly a beer distributorship which once housed four separate beer wholesalers when it was erected in 1974 along a rail line in the 1300 block of Broad Street. Over time, Carter Distributing Co. took over the 85,760-square-foot warehouse and the property is still owned by former Carter Distributing President Blair Carter who is trying to sell the parcel since he retired and now lives in Florida.

Carter Distributing Co., was sold to the Knoxville-based Cherokee Distributing Co. in 2017. Cherokee Distributing built and opened a new warehouse on I-75 at the Volkswagen exit in Apison this year, vacating the downtown warehouse in September, Carter said.

Smith said the existing facility would be razed and a new building erected under the proposed development plans. Unlike most downtown sites, the block-long parcel has sufficient size to accommodate plenty of parking for shoppers, Smith said.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 423-757-6340.