This story was updated Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, at 7 p.m. with more information.
Earth Fare, an organic and natural grocery chain which operates stores in Hixson and East Brainerd, is closing all 50 of its stores across the country as it searches to find a new owner to take over the troubled grocery chain.
The Asheville, North Carolina-based retailer announced the store closings Monday due to its inability to refinance its debt, citing "continued challenges in the retail industry."
The chain has five storefronts in Tennessee, including stores on Hixson Pike and Gunbarrrel Road which are expected to close within the next month once the inventory is sold.
Catherine Chatfield, who regularly travels from Apison to the Earth Fare store on Gunbarrel Road, said Monday she is "extremely disappointed" by the store closing.
"I've changed to trying to eat a totally plant-based diet and I really enjoy the vegan options and other healthy foods that Earth Fare offers at competitive prices," she said Monday after learning of the store closing. "It just seems like we're going to lose such an opportunity on this side of town. Everything seems to be gravitating to the North Shore."
Earth Fare said all employees have been notified of the impending closure of the company's stores and corporate office. While liquidating its inventory, the company said it will continue to pursue a sale of assets, in whole or in parts.
"Earth Fare has been proud to serve the natural and organic grocery market, and the decision to begin the process of closing our stores was not entered into lightly," the company said in a statement Monday. "Earth Fare is not in a financial position to continue to operate on a go-forward basis. As such, we have made the difficult, but necessary decision to commence inventory liquidation sales while we continue to engage in a process to find potential suitors for our stores."
Earth Fare expanded into Chattanooga in 2009 when it opened what was then its 17th store. The 26,000-square-foot store at 1814 Gunbarrel Road is located between a Kohl's and a Target store.
In 2016, Earth Fare opened a second Chattanooga store when it took over the 32,0000-square-foot former Harvest Grocery in Hixson, which shut down after a year of operations as an independent, local organic grocery outlet. The Hixson site also was formerly a Bi-Lo grocery store.
Earth Fare started in 1976 in Asheville, North Carolina and grew to include 50 outlets in 10 states, including stores in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio , South Carolina , Tennessee and Virginia. The company is majority owned by private equity firm Oak Hill Capital Partners.
Frank Scorpiniti, the president and CEO of Earth Fare, bragged last year that Earth Fare was "trying to have a higher purpose" than other food outlets.
Bevery Mosley, an East Brainerd resident, said she will miss the fresh, hormone-free chickens that Earth Fare offers.
"I love the chicken they have — it's so much better tasting than what other stores have," Mosley said. "It's like what my grandmother used to make."
Peter Ewing, a retired Eagle Bluff resident, said he has shopped at Earth Fare on Gunbarrel Road since the store opened in 2009 because of the store's organic offerings and samples.
"It's sad to see them go," he said. "I loved the organic apples and potatoes."
But the grocery market is facing stiff competition from everyone from dollar stores to Amazon now offering natural foods. Earth Fare says it sells foods and products that are free of hormones, antibiotics, preservatives and artificial ingredients. Earth Fare said it has more than 4,000 non-GMO items storewide, with more than 1,000 gluten-free products.
"We are a health care provider," Scorpiniti told the trade publication Progressive Grocer. "And I think, if you're a health care provider, and the starting point is 'do no harm,' then you can't put the deleterious chemicals on the shelf that are everywhere else today."
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 423-757-6340.