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Photo by Dave Flessner / A Walmart worker puts up the notice Wednesday of the pharmacy closing of the Shallowford Road Neighborhood Market. The pharmacy will close March 12 and the grocery store will shut down March 26.

This story was updated at 9:42 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, to remove a reference about Councilman Russell Gilbert seeking his fourth term on the City Council.

Walmart will close its Neighborhood Market at Shallowford and North Moore Road next month — the third grocery store to shut its doors in the past five and a half years in the Brainerd and East Chattanooga area.

Walmart officials said the 41,000-square-foot grocery store, which opened in January 2016, is no longer profitable and will close on March 26. The pharmacy at the Neighborhood Market will close March 12 and Walmart also will close its gas station at 4110 Shallowford Road in another four weeks.

"It's a difficult decision for us, but based on a number of factors we look at for the historic and ongoing operations this is an under performing store that no longer meets our threshholds," said Charles Crowson, director of corporate communications for Walmart at its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Walmart said it will continue to operate its other local Neighborhood Markets on Hixson Pike and East Brainerd Road, along with 10 other Walmart superstores and a Sam's Club in metropolitan Chattanooga. The 92 employees who will lose their jobs next month at the Shallowford Road grocery will be offered jobs at other Walmart stores in the area, Crowson said.

"We are encouraging and hoping that these employees will want to stay with the company and will transfer to one of those other local stores," Crowson said. "There's ample opportunity in Chattanooga and at Walmart, we continue to offer programs like our Live Better U academy and other benefits to help retain our workers."

The closing of the Walmart grocery outlet after only five years of operation is another setback for the food shopping options for many residents in East Chattanooga and Brainerd, which has been labeled as a food desert because of the limited number of fresh and healthy food options for thousands of residents.

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Photo by Dave Flessner / Shopper exit the Walmart Neighborhood Market on Shallowford Road on Wednesday. Walmart announced Wednesday it will close the grocery store and pharmacy next month. The 41,000-square-foot store opened in January 2016 but has failed to meet company sales targets.

Michael Pardue, who lives only about a quarter of a mile from the Shallowford Road store, was shopping at the Neighborhood Market Wednesday when he learned of the store closing.

"I hate to see this store go," said Pardue, who said he bought both food and prescription drugs at the Neighborhood Market over the past five years. "This will be the third store in this area to close and it's going to be tough on a lot of us."

Food City closed its Brainerd Road grocery store in 2018 , just three years after Scarbrough's Produce shut down on East Third Street in East Chattanooga.

Tennessee state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, has introduced legislation to promote grocery store development in "food deserts" — primarily low-income, urban areas without supermarkets.

Gardenhire said 21% of Tennesseans don't have access to affordable, healthy food options because the nearest supermarket is miles away and people who live in low-income neighborhoods often lack transportation. Those living in food deserts are often forced to buy food from convenience stores and fast-food restaurants, which leads to higher rates of obesity and other chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and cancer.

Sav O Lot grocery opened an 11,000-square-foot store in November in East Chattanooga at Dodson Avenue and Glass Street, aided by a $30,000 grant from the city to help address the "food desert" problem in Chattanooga's inner city.

Chattanooga City Councilman Russell Gilbert said he has spent many of his 12 years on the council in negotiation with grocery stores to provide fresh food and a pharmacy to the Brainerd and Dalewood community that he represents.

Russell said he received notice of the Walmart closing "with a heavy heart" after working to help bring the world's biggest retailer to the area five years ago.

"I would like to thank Walmart for the years that they have served the Brainerd community," he said in a statement Thursday. "They have assured me that employees will have the opportunity to transfer to other Walmart locations. I hope that we will have new opportunities to work with Walmart in the near future."

Crowson said Walmart "appreciates the continued support of local elected leaders, including Councilman Russell Gilbert. Councilman Gilbert was a strong advocate for this location and worked tirelessly to keep it open. Ultimately, this was an internal decision made by Walmart."

Sharitra Strickland, another shopper at the Neighborhood Market Wednesday, said she also is sorry to see Walmart close its Shallowford Road grocery.

"I think this was a good store and a lot people depended upon shopping here, " she said.

Crowson said Walmart owns the Shallowford Road property where it built its Neighborhood Market, but he said no decision has been made yet what the retail giant will do with the site after the grocery is closed.

Walmart continues to operate 151 stores in Tennessee, including 19 Neighborhood Markets which Walmart introduced in Chattanooga in 2015.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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