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Our goal is to drive more foot traffic and sell more groceries and provide more job opportunities.

Food City is kicking off the conversion of the 29 Chattanooga area Bi-Lo supermarkets it has acquired, with the first four stores to see new signs, merchandise and prices early next month.

"What we're doing is making sure the stores are in proper working order, restocking the stores and, most importantly, lowering thousands of prices," said Steven C. Smith, chief executive of Food City parent K-VA-T Food Stores.

Smith said four Bi-Lo stores initially will change over to Food City supermarkets, closing either Aug. 30 or 31 and then reopening Sept. 2 or Sept. 3.

The first units are at 3600 Hixson Pike, 8530 Hixson Pike, 3901 Dayton Blvd. in Red Bank, and 8634 Highway 58 in Harrison, he said.

The remainder of the stores will transform into Food City units over about six weeks in four added phases, Smith said. He didn't provide the full slate because of potential adjustments to the schedule.

But the pharmacies in each of the stores will stay open during the entire conversion, Smith said.

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The East Brainerd Bi-Lo is open Thursday, July 23, 2015. Food City announces that it is buying 29 Bi-Lo supermarkets in the Chattanooga market.

The Abingdon, Va.-based grocer will work around the clock in the closed stores to ready them as Food City units, the CEO said.

When the stores reopen, customers will see new signage and rebranding both inside and outside, he said.

"Everything is changed to Food City," he said, even the large signs out front, most of which are custom made. "A lot of those are made in Chattanooga, too."

What customers will see are the familiar faces of store employees, Smith said, as Food City kept nearly all of the nearly 2,000 Bi-Lo employees. He said all of the Bi-Lo managers are staying, and Food City has added field supervisors to oversee specific segments such as produce or meats.

A spokeswoman for Bi-Lo didn't immediately have a comment on the transition of the stores.

But, Smith said, customers will see a difference in the prices of store goods.

"That has been one of Bi-Lo's biggest obstacles," he said. "It needed a little bit of price sharpness. That's what is taking place during the down hours."

Smith said Food City is introducing its own loyalty program, called the Food City value card. He said holders of Bi-Lo fuel perks or bonus points will need to spend them by about Oct. 1.

Also, the Food City official said the company is negotiating with landlords where its stores are located to gain the OK to build fuel centers. About 85 percent of existing Food City stores have fuel centers.

Food City patrons will be able to use its loyalty program points to gain discounts on groceries or on fuel, he said.

Smith noted that Food City plans to reinvest in the stores. He estimated earlier this summer when the deal was announced that he sees between $40 million and $50 million invested over three to five years "in the stores, in the people, in the product andin the price consumers will see."

"The more we learn [about the Chattanooga market], the more excited we are about it," Smith said. "Our goal is to drive more foot traffic and sell more groceries and provide more job opportunities."

When the transaction was unveiled in July, Bi-Lo owner Southeastern Groceries said the sale of the Chattanooga area units wasn't an easy decision, given its history in the region when it bought the longstanding Red Food Stores in 1994.

"We believe we have identified a strong partner to ensure these 29 stores and our associates are positioned for continued success under another reputable brand," said Southeastern CEO Ian McLeod.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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