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Closing of North Roan Save-A-Lot again leaves neighbors in food desert

Zach Vance • Aug 29, 2018 at 11:28 PM

Mostly empty shelves lined the Save-A-Lot store in Johnson City Wednesday as customers heard rumors the store would be closing and raced to take advantage of closeout prices.

After 2 1/2 years of business, the Save-A-Lot at 1103 N. Roan St. officially closed its doors for the final time at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to an associate who confirmed the closing over the phone.

Inquiries made to the Save-A-Lot corporate office and to the store’s general manager Justin Essary were not immediately returned. There were also no “going out of business” signs posted outside the store.

An Elizabethton Save-A-Lot associate also confirmed the Johnson City grocery store would be closing, but said her store, located at 135 W. E. Elk Ave., would not be affected and would remain open.

Earl and Judy Pearce of Carter County were among the last customers to leave the store Wednesday.

“I hate they’re closing. It’s very sad to me. It breaks my heart,” Judy said. “We’ve always enjoyed coming here.”

“This place was always well maintained, clean, and had a very friendly atmosphere,” Earl said while stocking groceries into the trunk of his car.

Many customers on Wednesday strolled around the store with overflowing grocery carts, full of marked-down juice, fresh meat and dry goods. Taking advantage of the close-out prices, Judy said she made sure to buy extra groceries to stock up her church’s food pantry.

The closing of the Save-A-Lot, which first opened in March 2016, will once again leave a grocery store void for downtown Johnson City residents, particularly those with low incomes. A Dollar General is located within the same shopping center, but it only sells dry and canned goods.

A woman shopping inside the store said the closure was unfortunate considering how many downtown residents rely on the Save-A-Lot within walking distance.

Tom Ornduff, who drove from Jonesborough to shop at the Save-A-Lot on Wednesday, said he was saddened to hear the news, and hopes to see another grocer eventually fill its place.

Before Save-A-Lot, a Hometown IGA occupied the 15,000-square-foot retail space in the Central Shopping Center. In February 2014, it also abruptly shut its doors, giving little notice to customers and employees.

IGA’s departure left behind what’s termed a “food desert”  by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A food desert is a low-income census tract where a significant proportion of residents are more than a mile away from the nearest supermarket.

The presence of the food desert, stretching on the northeast side of Interstate 26, through the Carnegie neighborhood and into the Piney Grove community, decreases the quality of life for residents, Washington County Economic Development Council Downtown Development Manager Dianna Cantler said in July 2015, shortly after Essary announced that he had signed a lease on the building.

“It is disappointing to lose a grocery store that serves a large neighborhood,” Cantler said on Wednesday after learning the store would be closing. “Once again, the North Side community will be a food desert, with nothing within a walkable distance.”

In March 2016, Essary told the Johnson City Press the store employed roughly 20 people.

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