The Birmingham City Council approved a loan and incentives program Tuesday that will keep the Woodland Park neighborhood’s Save A Lot location from closing.
The city will provide the store, at 873 Dennison Avenue SW, with a 24-month loan not to exceed $1,000,000 at 3% interest. It also will give the company up to $750,000 in tax rebates over the next 10 years. The money will go toward renovations, inventory changes and new staff positions.
Under threat of bankruptcy, Save A Lot has closed a number of locations across the country over the past several years, including some in areas with no other fresh food sources. The Woodland Park location came close to being one of those stores, District 6 Councilor Crystal Smitherman said Tuesday.
“There was a possibility of that store being taken from there, which means that community — Woodland Park and all of Titusville — wouldn’t really have a grocery store that would be close by, making it even more of a food desert,” Smitherman said. “I want to thank the city of Birmingham for saving Save A Lot.”
The Birmingham-based corporation Community Shelves, LLC., announced its acquisition of the Woodland Park location — along with three other Save A Lots in Sylacauga, Bessemer and Midfield — in December. Community Shelves already owns the former Western Supermarket location in East Lake, as well as the Organic Harvest Market in the downtown area.
Community Shelves will rebrand the store and hire between six and eight new employees. All current employees will be maintained.
Though Smitherman had been concerned that store prices would rise as a result of the acquisition, she said she was satisfied by assurances “that the prices would still be affordable.”
“They are good corporate citizens in the city of Birmingham,” Irenio Johnson, project manager for the city’s Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity, said of Community Shelves. “If (the Woodland Park) store had closed, it would have been a difficult time recruiting and attracting a new grocer to come in.”
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin made bringing new grocery stores to underserved communities a priority in his first term but acknowledged during a campaign event in January that brick-and-mortar efforts had mostly been unsuccessful. “We reached out to Publix, Kroger, Piggly Wiggly, Winn-Dixie, everybody,” he said. “‘No, no, no, no, no.’”
His administration will now pivot, he said, to creating partnerships between convenience stores and local farmers for pop-up produce stands.