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Supermarket oasis coming to Grifton: Residents eager for Tropicana to open

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Norma Garcia, left, produce manager at Tropicana Supermarket in Greenville, compares herbs with Lynette Henderson Friday at the store on Friday. Tropicana and the town of Grifton are working to bring the store to the old Piggly Wiggly location, which was the town's only grocery store.

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Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Monday, July 17, 2017

Grifton residents who have been living without a grocery store since Hurricane Matthew flooded the Piggly Wiggly nearly a year ago are excited at the prospects of having a new supermarket with a more international flavor beginning in 2018.

The owners of Tropicana Supermarket in Greenville plan to open another store in the building that housed the hometown Piggly Wiggly, according to Grifton Manager Joe Johnson, who announced the plan July 10. In addition to fresh food, the development could bring up to 50 jobs to town.

“I’m thrilled,” Johnson told The Times-Leader of Ayden and Grifton. “Not only is it good that we will have a grocery store again, but they seem like they’ll be a good company to have in town.”

Work to rehabilitate the building on Highland Boulevard, which was heavily damaged during Matthew, is set to begin in August and expected to last six months, Johnson said, adding he hopes the store will open in early 2018.

The town of Grifton is working to provide an economic incentive package for Tropicana, but the details have not yet been finalized, Johnson said.

Grifton has been without a full grocery store since October 2016 when the floodwaters that followed the hurricane put the town’s lone grocery out of business. Piggly Wiggly Central Business Office, which owned the Grifton Piggly Wiggly and the building, decided in December 2016 it would not reopen the store, which also flooded in 1999 after Hurricane Floyd. They have been looking since that time to find a buyer, the Times-Leader reported.

Dollar General, located next door to the defunct store, has been the only business selling groceries in town, leaving residents to drive at least seven miles to the nearest store with fresh meat and produce. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines any area where residents must drive more than a mile to purchase fresh meat and produce as a food desert.

Tropicana is a family-owned chain that started in New York and opened its first North Carolina store 10 years ago in Smithfield, according to Emmanuel Bautista, general manager of the Greenville Tropicana. Six stores currently operate in the state, with new locations scheduled for Grifton and Clinton, Bautista said.

“Our products are international, from the U.S., Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa,” he said. “We’ve been seeing many Grifton residents coming to Greenville to shop here. We will offer our support to the community there, including 40-50 new jobs, and we’re hoping for their support in return.”

Velma and Claxton McLawhorn of Ayden heard that Tropicana was going to open in Grifton, so they came to scout the Greenville location, ostensibly to see the variety of fresh Hispanic vegetables and fruits.

“I want to see what they have to offer,” Velma McLawhorn said. “They have a lot of things I never have seen in a Piggly Wiggly before. I hear tell they even have cactus here and that’s something I’ve never seen in a grocery store before.”

Tropicana produce manager Norma Garcia showed the McLawhorns a bag of fresh chopped cactus and explained how to prepare it as a topping for grilled steak.

The McLawhorns know what Piggly Wiggly sells because their son, Jonathan, is a partner in the Piggly Wiggly supermarket in Ayden, where some Grifton residents have been doing their shopping since the hometown supermarket closed, they said.

Claxton McLawhorn said his son appreciates the business he’s picked up from Grifton shoppers since the Piggly Wiggly closed.

“I suspect it’ll hurt (his business) a little bit when the new store opens in Grifton, but I think it’s good for the people there to have a store in their town,” he said.

Angel Hodge, who works at the Dollar General store next to the closed Piggly Wiggly, said her customers are excited at the prospect of the new Tropicana coming to town.

“It’s been really tough for the people in this community to get fresh vegetables and meat,” Hodge said. “A lot of people are not easily able to get to Ayden. The Dollar General people have done a lot to try and help the community. They added a couple of extra freezers and we have some frozen fruits and vegetables and some frozen meat products. We just don’t have the fresh products that people need.” 

Courtney Foster of Grifton was coming out of the Dollar General store with packages in hand and stopped to talk about the pending arrival of Tropicana.

“That’s awesome. I’m glad they’re coming because we need one,” Foster said. “There’s things you can’t get here and you hate to have to go all the way to Ayden. We’re used to the convenience of having a grocery store here.”

Mireva Moreno of Washington, N.C., comes regularly to the Greenville Tropicana to shop for tortilla ingredients, fresh meats and tropical fruits and vegetables.

“Whatever Hispanic foods you’re looking for you’ll find here, and the prices are less expensive than most other stores,” Moreno said. “They even have the cookies I used to buy in Mexico. I think the people in Grifton are going to like the store.”

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.

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