Roger Price says he'd shopped at the Brainerd Road Food City store, or its predecessors, for 33 years and he wanted to stop by Tuesday afternoon before the supermarket closed for the final time.
"The neighborhood needs a grocery store," said Price.
The Food City at 4011 Brainerd Road closed because the store's lease expires later this year and company officials were unable to find a suitable replacement location.
"As one can imagine, this was a very difficult decision for our company to say the least — one that was reached only after great consideration," said Steven C. Smith, Food City president and chief executive officer. "As we continue to update and open new stores in the greater Chattanooga market, we will continue to look for locations to serve the community, including the Brainerd area."
A sign on the store door directed customers to other Food City units such as at 3715 Ringgold Road in East Ridge and supermarkets at 6951 Lee Highway, 1600 E. 23rd St. and 4510 Highway 58.
Some people who shopped just before the store closed said they planned to go to a Walmart on Greenway View Drive about 2 miles away or a Walmart Neighborhood Market on Shallowford Road a little more than 2 miles from the Brainerd Food City.
Lebron Carter said he had been shopping at the Brainerd store at least two to three times a week.
"It will push us to Wally World," he said about the closing.
Carter said that having to travel a few miles to Walmart wasn't a big inconvenience to him, but it could be for some elderly shoppers who have people drive them to the store.
"It may be a problem for some of them," he said.
Curt Miller said he'd shopped for at least a decade at the Food City supermarket, which was a Bi-Lo for many years and, before that, a Red Food store.
Miller said he thought about rallying people in the neighborhood and city officials to try to keep the store open. But, he said, in the end it was out of his hands.
Brainerd residents Don and Anna Skalka said the closing was inconvenient to them.
"We are going to drive to St. Elmo," Anna Skalka said. "It's a nice store. And we don't like the one in East Ridge."
The Brainerd ZIP code 37411, where the former Food City operated, is one of the top three areas where Metropolitcan Ministries provides assistance to residents, according to Rebecca Whelchel, the nonprofit's executive director. She said finding access to goods and services is among the biggest challenges for the people they help.
"Anything that is within bus or walking distance is a real asset to folks living in poverty," Whelchel said. "Now that it is taken away, that's rough."
She said she would encourage people living in the area to make the drive to the Aldi store on Lee Highway. That store is 2.5 miles away from the former Food City, according to Google Maps. Whelchel said the grocery store has reasonable prices and fresher foods than what one might find at a Dollar General.
"There's an opportunity for somebody to put a lovely new grocery store in there," she said of the Brainerd Road site.
Lakweshia Ewing, vice president of community impact for the United Way of Greater Chattanooga, said the loss of access to food for any neighborhood is a threat to overall community health.
"This is an opportunity for the community to come together and decide what's best. At United Way, that's our goal, so we hope this is the beginning of a larger conversation about how we can connect resources where they're needed and how they're needed," Ewing said.
Hamilton County Schools' spokesman Tim Hensley said the district is aware of the store closing. He said the closest schools that would be impacted the most are Woodmore Elementary and Brainerd High. That would affect around 800 children, Hensley said. If Orchard Knob schools are included, that number jumps to about 920, he said.
City Councilwoman Carol Berz said the basics of food, shelter and clothing "are necessary for a healthy community and we should be working to ensure all three. Most importantly, residents should have access to healthy food options."
Food City CEO Smith said that for some time, the company looked for a replacement store in the vicinity, but it was not able to find one. He said the company plans to continue to evaluate possible new store locations moving forward.
Brainerd store associates were offered positions at surrounding Food City locations, according to the Abingdon, Va.-based company.
Food City entered the Chattanooga area in 2015 after purchasing 29 area Bi-Lo stores. Officials said they planned to spend $40 million to $50 million in the market to upgrade existing stores and build new ones. Later, Smith said that figure had jumped to between $50 million and $60 million.
Food City parent K-VA-T Food Stores operates 132 retail outlets throughout Southeast Kentucky, Southwest Virginia, East Tennessee, and North Georgia.
Staff writer Joan McClane contributed to this story.
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