Since the 1980s, the dilapidated building at the corner of Alston Avenue and Liberty Street served as an eyesore on a major city thoroughfare.
The more than 12,000-square- foot building that once housed a Winn-Dixie is now transforming into a new supermarket – Save-A-Lot.
The nearly $2 million in private capital being invested in the project is expected to produce jobs in clerks, cashiers and management with salaries ranging from $8 per hour to $62,000 a year.
In addition to developing the land, the discount grocer will add a supermarket to Durham’s inner-city landscape – an area often called a “food desert” because it lacks access to fresh foods and produce.
Kevin Dick, director of Durham’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, said the city and the community actively pursued Save-A-Lot and the Ecclesia Community Development Corporation, which owns the land, to get this project.
Dick said numerous studies have called for more retail outlets along Alston Ave. and for a grocery store in the northeast central part of Durham.
The city provided Save-A-Lot with $150, 000 in incentives and believes that the store will have a positive impact in several ways, including attracting other complimentary retailers to the community, generating sales taxes and creating about 46 jobs.
The goal is to have as many jobs go to Durham residents as possible, and the Durham JobLink Career Center has been responsible for most of the local recruitment.
The store would also provide greater access to fresh food.
Herbert Johnson is director of the local non-profit Feed My Sheep and president of Bull City Urban Market at the Golden Belt building downtown.
BCUM promotes healthy eating in northeast central Durham with accessible fresh foods for families that may have a tougher time getting it. The market is in the middle of constructing an indoor venue to provide greater food access to the area.
Johnson said the Save-A-Lot is a good start, but for the size of the community more is needed.
“Look at the population in NECD with only one supermarket,” said Johnson. “We need eight more because everybody needs fresh food.”
Johnson said since the close of the TROSA grocery on Angier Avenue earlier this summer, community residents have few choices of where to shop.
The Department of Agriculture labels areas of the country it considers food deserts. Although much of NECD is included, some city sections, those nearest Alston Avenue, for instance, are not.
Feed My Sheep works with organizations like the Durham Housing Authority to identify citizens, such as area seniors, needing help accessing fresh food. The organization provides them with hot food, but Johnson said what they want most is fresh produce.
Even from food banks people get canned goods, but not as much fresh food a regular basis. Even the distance to markets can also add strain.
“Seniors often pay people to take them to the store or to just pick up milk,” Johnson said. “If you’re only getting food on the first of every month, every dollar counts.”
At Leo’s Seafood, located directly across the street from the Save-A-Lot, business is steady for owner Leo Coats, who has watched this corner for 35 years.
His is one of the last seafood markets around, and Coats runs it with his wife and three other employees.
He agrees that the supermarket would help boost the area’s economy and is not worried about the grocery “taking” his business.
He believes the Save-A-Lot and the widening of Alston Ave. will only improve things for everyone.
“A new grocery store for the area would be a good thing,” Coats said. “Many folks in the neighborhood drive but many more walk so Save-A-Lot should do well here.”
Coats said the neighborhood once had a bad reputation, but sees things getting better.
“It’s a good neighborhood,” he said. “I’m counting on Save-A-Lot to bring in even more business.”