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Johnson City Earth Fare to close as part of businesswide liquidation sale

David Floyd • Updated Feb 3, 2020 at 6:57 PM

Earth Fare, a chain of organic grocery stores and full-service supermarkets, will close all of its stores, including its location in Johnson City, the company announced in a news release Monday.

The company said it will begin inventory liquidation sales at all its stores. Jennifer Mercer, a media representative for Paladin for Earth Fare, said the liquidation sales will begin Monday and are expected to last through the end of the month. Paladin is the company’s communications firm.

"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. We'd like to thank our team members for their commitment and dedication to serving our customers, and our vendors and suppliers for their partnership," the company said in the release.

The company said it has implemented over the course of the past few years “numerous strategic initiatives” in the effort to grow and expand as well as enhance the customer experience.

"While many of these initiatives improved the business, continued challenges in the retail industry impeded the company's progress as well as its ability to refinance its debt,” the company said. “As a result, 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.”

The location in Johnson City, 1735 W. State of Franklin Road, opened Oct. 15, 2008.

Meg Robinson, 34, a teacher at University School, visits Earth Fare at least once a week. She comes in to eat at the salad bar and does some of her grocery shopping at the store. She appreciates that the store sells bulk foods like beans and rice because she’s been trying to limit her plastic waste.

“I just like that because you can bring your own container and control your waste and you can buy however much is appropriate for you,” Robinson said. “Less packaging and more control as a consumer. I feel like Earth Fare really offered me that.”

Although places like the Natural Foods Market and Kroger also sell organic food, she doesn’t think there’s any stores that currently fill Earth Fare’s precise role in the local market.

“The prepared foods, that section is a very specific niche,” she said. “I don’t know of anything that’s quite like that.”

An employee at the Earth Fare location in Johnson City said he couldn’t make a statement on the closure.

In compliance with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, the company said employees have been notified of the upcoming closure of the stores and corporate office.

Mercer said the company, which is based in Asheville, North Carolina, has about 3,000 employees in total. While she didn’t have a specific number for the location in Johnson City, Mercer said the company has five stores and about 250 employees across Tennessee.

The Earth Fare in Johnson City, which competed in the same upscale grocery market as the Fresh Market at 421 N. State of Franklin Road, held a grand reopening in June to show off a remodeling of the store, which included an updated layout and decor.

Changes to the store also included the addition of hundreds of non-GMO, private brand items and a larger selection of plant-based products.

“The inventory liquidation sales will feature a truly outstanding assortment of merchandise at very significant price reductions,” the company said in the release. “We encourage shoppers to visit their nearby location now and take advantage of these savings before it’s too late.”

The company will also be selling store fixtures as part of this process.

The closure comes as a new Publix at the corner of West Market Street and State of Franklin Road inches closer to fruition.

In July, a new discount grocery store called United Grocery Outlet opened in the former Save-A-Lot location at 1103 N. Roan St. Owned by grocery liquidator Bargain Barn, the store is one of about 40 locations its parent company owns in the Southeast.

Mitch Miller, CEO of the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, said the organization was just as shocked about the announcement as anyone else.

He said the space could serve as a good location for a group that has been trying to put together a food coop in the area.

Locally, he said Earth Fare already competes with Fresh Market, but on a larger scale, he said the company is also contending with large grocery outlets like Whole Foods, which was purchased by Amazon in 2017.

“I could only imagine the cost and the minimal profit margins for a grocery store and what they have to have just to sustain as a company,” Miller said.

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