Surry: Grocery store now slated for 2023

Published 4:07 pm Thursday, October 13, 2022

A long-awaited grocery store partially funded with tax dollars is slated to open by spring, according to Surry Assistant County Administrator David Harrison.

Surry residents Andrew and Sheryl White purchased the former Surry Furniture & Hardware Co. building roughly three years ago, proposing to turn the vacant storefront at Routes 31 and 10 into the “Surry Marketplace.” In 2021, the project secured a $50,000 state grant aimed at combating “food deserts.”

According to Harrison, Surry County has since contributed an additional $300,000 in local funds toward the project via an agreement executed by the county’s Economic Development Authority to purchase refrigeration equipment.

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The equipment is slated to arrive “no later than November 2022,” Harrison said at the Surry Board of Supervisors’ Oct. 6 meeting.

Contractors have obtained a demolition permit for the store’s interior and submitted a proposed layout for the store, Harrison said. Once the county issues a building permit, construction of the store’s interior will begin.

The county has held “food desert” status for more than two decades, according to County Administrator Melissa Rollins. The term, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, refers to low-income or rural communities where at least 33% of the population lives 10 miles or more from a supermarket or large grocery store.

Former Gov. Ralph Northam announced $620,000 in Virginia Food Access Investment Fund grants to 15 projects in 2021, including the $50,000 award to the Surry Marketplace. Virginia’s General Assembly established the fund in 2020.

Sheryl White had told The Smithfield Times in 2021 that she’d anticipated the store opening by September or early October of that year. The Times was unable to reach the Whites by press deadline as to the reason opening is now delayed to 2023. Harrison, speaking to the Times following the Oct. 6 meeting, didn’t share specifics but suggested the delay was at least partially due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its continuing impact on construction costs and timelines.

The $300,000 represents the entirety of the county’s contribution, Harrison said. The county, he explained, will lease the refrigeration equipment to the Surry Marketplace for five years at no cost, after which time the store will take over ownership.

This isn’t the first time the county has attempted a public-private partnership with the goal of bringing a grocery store to Surry.

According to county records, the Rhode Island-based Supervalu grocery store chain, now known as United Natural Foods Inc., had proposed building a 13,500-square-foot grocery store and shopping center on county-owned land across the street from the former Edwards Ham Shoppe, now known as Meats of Virginia. The proposed $6 million shopping center was to have opened in 2020.

The Board of Supervisors had given county staff approval in June 2018 to create draft agreements with a contractor and an operator to build and run the proposed grocery store, which ended up receiving “zero response” from any prospects, according to reporting that year by the Times.

Surry Marketplace, as of April 2022, had signed an agreement with United Natural Foods for the “design and management of the interior buildout,” according to a county press release, with Surry’s EDA having “paid the retainer” for UNFI’s services with a Charlottesville-based GENAN Foundation grant.

According to the Times’ archives, access to fresh, perishable foods has been an ongoing issue for county residents since Surry’s only major grocery store shuttered in 1999, leaving them with at least a 30-minute drive to alternatives in Smithfield, Suffolk or Petersburg.