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An old building is down, the site is nearly cleared, and a Chattanooga construction permit application identifies a Trader Joe's grocery store as the occupant of a planned new structure on Gunbarrel Road.

Trader Joe's Public Relations Manager Kenya Friend-Daniel said Friday in an email that "we are excited to be bringing a store to Chattanooga."

Friend-Daniel said she had no information about a timeline on the planned store long sought by Chattanoogans.

But the permit application calls for work to start April 7 and offers July 23 as a proposed finish date. The document said that interior fit-out will be done under a separate permit.

An earlier permit listed the project cost at $1.95 million.

Demolition is done at the 2111 Gunbarrel Road location, where AAA Chattanooga operated for many years just outside Hamilton Place Mall.

An expert in the grocery store sector said the opening of a Trader Joe's will be a regional draw and attract shoppers from as far away as Alabama and North Carolina.

"Because this is the first Trader Joe's in southern Tennessee, I would expect the opening to attract people from all over the area, including from north Georgia, north Alabama and even southern North Carolina," said Gina Acosta, executive editor of Progressive Grocer and Retail Leader.

She said that a lot of people in Chattanooga, and in the other areas, have been waiting for a Trader Joe's for a long time.

In 2017, a survey of 1,100 people by the downtown nonprofit redevelopment group River City Co. showed that a Trader Joe's market was among those retailers most desired in Chattanooga. Clothing retailer Urban Outfitters was the other.

Also, a Facebook page, "Bring Trade Joe's to Chattanooga," has received more than 6,700 likes.

Acosta, of the Progressive Grocer trade publication, said Trader Joe's has built a cult following on the strength of its quality, globally-inspired private brand products, friendly customer service and smaller, easy-to-navigate stores.

"Trader Joe's doesn't open a lot of stores, or very often, so when they do open a store, it attracts hundreds if not thousands of shoppers, depending on the location," she said.

Acosta said that grocery shoppers can find nearly everything they need at Trader Joe's, from eggs and milk to Spanish cheese and frozen Vietnamese Pho soup, to pet food and French soap.

"The one thing Trader Joe's does not have, though, is hot prepared foods," she said. "So for example, shoppers can find cold, ready-to-eat chicken salad, but not hot rotisserie chicken."

About a year ago, Trader Joe's said it was exploring locations in Tennessee, including Chattanooga.

Last November, Trader Joe's said that it was "very interested in bringing a store to Chattanooga." Local developer Bassam Issa said he wasn't prepared to make an announcement about a tenant for the Gunbarrel Road site.

The Trader Joe's spokeswoman said the company's goal each year is to open 20 to 30 stores.

The company already has stores in Knoxville, Nashville, and Germantown, outside Memphis, in Tennessee.

Nationwide, the retailer operates more than 500 stores, which it bills as "your neighborhood grocery store."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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