Published: Sep 28, 2012 12:00 AM
Modified: Sep 27, 2012 02:29 PM
The Save-A-Lot supermarket opened Thursday at 8 a.m. and business boomed.
In no time, the parking lot at Liberty Street and Alston Avenue was packed with cars and customers were streaming in and out.
“They’ve got some nice fruit in there, got some good prices,” said Lorraine Williams, a full grocery bag on her arm. “It’s a good location. It’s bright and cheery inside.”
There was definitely a cheery atmosphere at the former site of a long-abandoned Winn-Dixie. Colorful flags and “Grand Opening” banners lined the streets, people called and waved to each other, a long line formed for free sausage dogs and workmen were setting out folding chairs for an afternoon ribbon-cutting ceremony.
There was also plenty of commerce going on. William Moye toted a case of bottled water to his car, then went back for two bags full of groceries.
“I like it,” he said. “Good prices, real good.”
Good prices are a major feature of Save-A-Lot, a Missouri company that has about 1,300 stores in 40 states. Its stores carry fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products, and the usual grocery-store sundries such as paper towels, plastic wrap and shampoo.
Save-A-Lot gave the building a $1.9 million makeover, working in collaboration with the property owner, the next-door Ecclesia House of Prayer. District Manager Allen Duncan said the 1958 structure was gutted to a shell and rebuilt inside with all-new equipment, and a new surface laid on the parking lot.
That’s just what East Durham residents such as Williams and Moye have said the area needed for decades. East Durham has been characterized as a “food desert”: a marginal community lacking access to high-quality, healthy food at prices equivalent to those in more affluent parts of town.
Williams was especially happy to have a full-fledged grocery store in walking range of home.
“A lot of times you’ll be walking and you need to get to a grocery store, not a convenience store” with high prices and little to pick from, she said. Moreover, a grocery store is a meeting place where neighbors can see each other.
“It brings character to the neighborhood,” she said.
Store neighbor Lisa Williams was making her second trip over of the morning.
“I’ve been here before,” she said. “I had to get more people and come back. I love it.”
Duncan said the opening-hours turnout was “amazing” but he was not very surprised. Ever since the flags and banners went up last week, neighbors had been stopping by every day to see if the store was open yet.
“Everybody I met today was smiling,” Lorraine Williams said.