Food Depot: tentative agreement reached to open second store on S. Hill St.

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

Aisles and shelves empty as Piggly Wiggly closes.  IMAGE CREDIT: ALEXANDER CAIN

Aisles and shelves empty as Piggly Wiggly closes. IMAGE CREDIT: ALEXANDER CAIN

A tentative agreement has been reached that would result in Food Depot opening a second Griffin location at 816 S. Hill St., the former site of Piggly Wiggly, which closed in October.

According to Food Depot founders Gerald Taylor and Raymond Johnson, negotiations have been ongoing and they hope to soon have a contract in place.

“We have a tentative agreement with the landlord, Jack Halpern, but he’s been out of town, so we don’t have his signature on a contract yet,” Taylor said Monday morning. “I’m a little hesitant to say it’s done. I’ve talked to him personally and he’s agreed to the terms, but it hasn’t been finalized.”

Johnson said former Piggly Wiggly manager James Jenkins, who is beloved in the community, has been hired and is currently working in the existing Griffin Food Depot location, and if the contract does become a reality, he is slated to manage the second location.

“James Jenkins has been hired, and he’s been told that regardless of whether we open a second location, he has a place with Food Depot,” Johnson said.

Taylor said he and Johnson are hopeful they will be able to open a second store, but realize they are taking a chance.

“The two locations are only three miles apart, so it’s a gamble and risk for Food Depot to put a second location so close by, but we believe in the Griffin community and think we’ll have its support,” he said. “We think it will be good for everyone.”

Griffin City Manager Kenny Smith said he is pleased with the effort to open a new grocery store in the former Piggly Wiggly location, and that city officials have been working to make that happen since they first learned of The Pig’s pending closure.

“Well, I think we definitely need a grocery store located on the south side of town, and I think whoever moves into that location will be successful,” Smith said. “We’ve been talking to more than Food Depot. We’ve talked to several grocery retailers since we first heard that slot was going to be available. I guess the landlord has been in negotiations, but we haven’t been privy to that information.”

Smith said he recognizes Taylor and Johnson’s risk in opening a second store so close to the original, but that city officials have faced that concern with other businesses.

“We had that conversation with Truett Cathy a number of years ago and I think they’ve been quite successful,” Smith said in reference to the two local Chick-fil-A sites.

In response to some local residents’ expressed desire for a Griffin Publix store, Smith said he does not anticipate it coming to fruition.

“We’ve been working, trying to get Publix here as long as I’ve been here, but they haven’t been interested. I haven’t heard anything about them having any interest in that location (S. Hill Street),” Smith said. “I think it’s just their business model requires a higher annual income. I’m not sure the demographics meet their business model. They do their homework on population, income and economic status before they even consider moving in. They do all that before they even talk to us and it’s my understanding from talking to some of the landlords that we just don’t fit their business model, at least right now, anyway.”

Social media has been active in recent weeks with many residents expressing their desire for any grocery store retailer to open in the former Piggly Wiggly location, and have said they will support Food Depot if they move to their community.

Taylor said Food Depot, as a corporation, would like to support Griffin.

“We just hate to see the large empty spaces,” he said.

Food Depot functions under an ESOP, or Employee Stock Ownership Plan, which means the employees own the company, not its founders.

“The employees receive stock based on their employment. They own the company, not us,” Taylor said. “We (he and Johnson) still have the same duties we always have, but we’re under business management contract with our employees. This business is about its employees, and we’re doing this for them and the community.”

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