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Hot air balloons are pictured in this staff file photo.
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A hot air balloon
 
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Food City is launching 22 hot-air balloons over Chattanooga's skyline this morning in one of the biggest simultaneous balloon launches ever.

Food City is launching 22 hot-air balloons over Chattanooga's skyline this morning in one of the biggest simultaneous balloon launches ever.

"This is symbolic of our new launch into this market and we couldn't be more excited," said Steve Smith, CEO of Food City today as he prepared to board a hot air balloon lifting off from Food City's Hixson store. "We've wanted to be in the Chattanooga market for some time and now that we have all of our stores converted and operating as Food City we wanted to mark that with a special event."

Food City acquired 29 stores from Bi-Lo in September. The balloon launch is similar to what the Abingdon, Va.-based grocery chain did in 1990 with nine balloons when it took over the former White Stores to enter the grocery market in Knoxville.

Mark Fritze, a balloon operator from Florida, was among the balloonists who came to Chattanooga today from a variety of states. Balloonists said the launch of 22 balloons from area stores is unprecedented in the South.

"I'm not aware of any balloon launch from this many sites at one time and fortunately the weather is great," said Jeff Lansdown, who organized today's event.

The launch is happening between 8-9 a.m.

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