Breaking ground on Food City

The Food City supermarket chain held a special groundbreaking ceremony in Winchester on Friday. Digging the project’s first shovels full of dirt are, from left, John Jones, vice president of store operations; Daryl Massey, district manager, Chattanooga Division; Rick Bishop, executive vice president of operations, Chattanooga Division; Beth Rhoton, Winchester city administrator; Terry Harrell, Winchester mayor;  Steve Smith, Food City owner and chief executive officer; Greg Sparks, senior vice president and chief operations officer; Bruce Spencer, Winchester city councilman; Steve Cagley, Winchester city councilman; Janice Bowling, state senator; Willie Womack, Winchester city councilman; and L.Z. Johnson, Winchester city councilman.

Winchester officially moved a major step forward Friday in getting a large supermarket on the city’s south side with Food City breaking ground for a 54,000-square-foot facility.

Food City representatives, Winchester city and Franklin County officials, State Sen. Janice Bowling and others attended the ceremony at Food City’s 12-acre construction site at 2211 Cowan Highway.

Steve Smith, Food City CEO and president, said plans are to have the supermarket open in June 2021, and it will provide between 170 and 180 jobs.

“We are so excited to be here in Franklin County and Winchester,” he said, addressing an audience of about 35 just before the groundbreaking.

Smith said it was a landmark day for his company, and Food City has had a great partnership with Winchester city officials in having the project go as smooth as possible thus far.

Mike Bunch, who owns the Morristown-based Michael Bunch Development, which is developing the supermarket, said he has been involved in building five large-scale Food City stores, and Winchester’s has been the smoothest one he’s worked on.

Bunch paid tribute to City Administrator Beth Rhoton and Community Development Coordinator Pat Sanders for streamlining the process so that all the pieces of the project could fall together so nicely.

“This has been the best one I’ve worked on so far,” Bunch said. “I’m very appreciative of what they’ve done here to make it go so smoothly.”

Smith said the supermarket will include a pharmacy, a floral department, a Starbucks coffee shop, a restaurant with a salad bar and state-of-the-art grocery offerings including fresh seafood.

He added that the development also includes a Gas ’N Go fuel station.

He said Food City stresses energy efficiency with the most modern LED lighting leading to a 40 percent utility savings that has been passed on to customers.

Smith said Food City’s roots date back to 1955, and it is a three-generation-old family business with 17,000 employees in Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia with an expansion planned into Alabama. The company has more than 130 stores.

“We look forward to opening this store,” Smith said.

He highlighted the company’s profit-sharing plan for employees and said Food City’s youngest employees are 14 years old and many develop careers with the company.

Winchester Mayor Terry Harrell said Winchester has been in need of a supermarket on its south side since the Food Lion store closed several years back.

He added that Rhoton began working toward getting a replacement supermarket just after Food Lion closed, and said she has been diligent and instrumental in securing the new Food City store.

“It took a lot of work to get here,” he said.

In addition to Rhoton, Harrell paid tribute to the Winchester City Council, the Winchester Industrial Development Board, the Franklin County Commission, County Mayor David Alexander and Sen. Bowling for doing their parts to secure the store.

Harrell referred to the movie “Field of Dreams” with its catchphrase — “If you build it, they will come.”

He said that with the Food City being built, other development is sure to follow.

Bunch said the site has the potential to accommodate up to six businesses, and plans are to add adjacent lodging and restaurant facilities in the future.

Food City is owned by K-VA-T Food Stores Inc., a privately held family and employee-owned corporation headquartered in Abingdon, Virginia.

K-VA-T Food Stores owns the Food City Distribution Center (formerly Mid-Mountain Foods), a distribution center K-VA-T helped form in 1974 and acquired full control of in 1998. The company also owns Misty Mountain Spring Water LLC, a producer of bottled water.

The company owns limited-assortment grocery stores named Super Dollar Food Center, Food City Express convenience stores and two Wine and Spirits liquor stores.

Many Food City grocery stores have their own fuel stations with the Gas ’N Go branding.

In July 2015, Food City announced the purchase of 21 BI-LO locations in the Chattanooga market as well as eight BI-LO stores in northern Georgia from Southeastern Grocers.

The company plans to invest over $40 million in capital improvements to the locations during the first year as well as install Gas ’N Go fuel stations in as many locations as possible, according to corporate information.

The Winchester City Council approved a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes resolution on June 9 which put the city a step closer to attracting Food City.

Payment in lieu of taxes, referred to by the acronym PILOT, is a tax incentive to attract businesses and industry in highly competitive markets with other cities and counties.

The PILOT program Winchester approved involves having the retailer pay nothing in property taxes the first three years, then 50 percent in the fourth year, 75 percent in the fifth and full taxes from the sixth year onward.

The resolution delegates authority to a recently formed Industrial Development Board to handle the PILOT incentive.