Gaston & Catawba

Hickory to get another grocery

Another grocery store is expected to arrive in Hickory next year, with a developer moving forward with preliminary construction work on a vacant lot at the eastern end of the city.

Plans for 20 acres on Springs Road N.E. are for a Walmart Neighborhood Market and two smaller retail stores, along with a handful of outparcels that could eventually be developed.

It is unclear how many new jobs would come with the planned 42,000-square-foot chain store, which would carry groceries and other goods, including pharmaceuticals. The nation’s largest retailer and grocer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., offers health care and other benefits to eligible full- and part-time employees.

Grading work at the site is underway, and the stores are expected to start opening by early summer, said Alex Kelly, a partner at the Charlotte-based commercial developer Tribek Properties.

In November, Hickory leaders voted to annex the land, which was in St. Stephens and within what is known as the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction – a regulatory tool used by municipalities to control development outside their boundaries.

The developer acquired the land from the county for $3.4 million in September, according to property records. It once was the grounds of the old St. Stephens Elementary School, which the county tore down after it was destroyed by a fire in the mid-2000s.

The annexation was requested by Tribek and will enable the city to extend water and sewer service to the site. Such infrastructure is already in place there, and Tribek would have to pay for any expansions, said Kevin Greer, assistant director of the city’s public utilities. He added that the planned development will involve no funding from the utilities department.

The plans are materializing as another Walmart Neighborhood Market is attracting customers since it opened at the southern end of the city less than two months ago. That development, which also included a gas station and convenience store, is at the intersection of Fourth Street S.W. and U.S. 70, about a 10-minute drive from the Springs Road site.

Amid signs of continued economic recovery, the city has seen increasing interest from developers in the past couple of years, said Brian Frazier, director of the city’s planning department.

At least some of that is attributed to a federally funded program the city has administered to spur redevelopment at abandoned or underused industrial or commercial sites where environmental contamination is proven or suspected. The city has received $800,000 in federal funds to assess and clean up such sites, known as brownfields, during the past seven years, Frazier said. He noted that at the Springs Road site it has conducted two such assessments.

“There’s a good market” in Hickory for commercial development, he said, citing a number of properties here that have undergone redevelopment. Last month, the city applied for an additional $400,000 in federal funds to continue environmental assessments and plan for redevelopment largely at the southern end of city, Frazier said.

At the Sprigs Road site, at the intersection of 19th Avenue and 24th Street, it may have only a matter of time until it passed into the hands of a developer. The city had received a number of inquiries, Frazier said, given the high volume of traffic there.

That is perhaps partly why the owners of a high-end grocery in Brevard selected Viewmont to open a second one. The store, Food Matters Market, is expected to open in early spring in an old Ace Hardware store on N.C. 127.

Featuring locally sourced and organic foods and containing about 12,000 square feet, it will fill a void in what has long remained an “underserved market” in Hickory, said Al Kirchner, co-owner of the market.

“There are enough people in that community … that have a liking towards this food,” he said of Viewmont. He noted that he has encountered people here who go elsewhere for such foods, traveling as far as to the Brevard store.

Referring to the market in Hickory for retail development, Kirchner added, “It’s got something happening.”