An inside look at Surry’s new grocery store

Published 5:56 pm Friday, June 28, 2024

An opening date for the long-awaited Surry Marketplace at the corner of Routes 10 and 31 has become a burning question on social media among county residents eager to shop for groceries without the half-hour drive to Smithfield.

Every few months, a post on one of the Surry-centric Facebook groups asking for an update will receive a flurry of comments. The store’s owner, Andrew White, says a specific date hasn’t been set.

White, who’s been working to convert the former Surry Furniture & Hardware Co. to a grocery store since he purchased the building five years ago, invited The Smithfield Times for a June 26 tour of the site in hopes of dispelling some of the rumors.

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Surry County’s Economic Development Authority, which matched a $300,000 grant from the Obici Healthcare Foundation in 2020 with the same amount of taxpayer dollars to partially fund the renovations, in April announced a tentative May or June grand opening.

Renee Chapline of Surry’s Economic Development Department said the market received its certificate of occupancy in late April and its Virginia Department of Agriculture certificate in May, but said she hadn’t heard a new date for its planned opening.

White, who blames lingering supply chain disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic for the delays, said he’s gearing up for a “soft opening” in the near future. Assistant County Administrator David Harrison said in 2022 that the refrigeration equipment the county match purchased didn’t arrive at the store until the fourth quarter of that year.

The wait shouldn’t be too much longer, as food vendors are set to stock the shelves with dry goods the first week of July, followed by the arrival of perishable meats and produce, White said.

The same day as the Times’ tour, White said a contractor was scheduled for later in the day to install a new point-of-sale system in the custom-built checkout counter.

“Converting an old hardware store to a supermarket is challenging at best,” White said.

One of the holdups county officials cited last year when the store missed its late summer target for a certificate of occupancy was a back-ordered 400-amp electrical component.

“All of that is here now,” White said.

All other permits needed to operate have also been issued, he said, and Chapline confirmed.

Once the store opens, shoppers will enter through an automatic sliding door White had custom-made. Left of the entrance toward the back of the sales floor are rows of commercial refrigerators for meats and produce. There will also be a brisket smoker outside to prepare ready-made meat for sale. To the right of the main entrance are shelves with dry goods and the checkout counter.

Through a swinging double door marked “employees only” are the inner workings of the store, which include climate-controlled refrigeration rooms for meats and vegetables, a walk-in freezer, a kitchen where rotisserie chickens will be cooked, and a room White envisions as a future pharmacy.

White, who’s managed multiple businesses throughout his life, said he brought in a grocery manager and hired consultants to advise him on how to lay out the store.

“The new way of doing supermarkets now is to separate the produce from the meats,” he said, showing the separate refrigeration rooms for meats and produce.

White said he’s already started hiring people for full- and part-time positions and expects to have roughly 20 employees.

White, who moved to Surry seven years ago, described his five-year effort to bring the market to fruition as “a labor of love.” Shortly after buying his house, he discovered a grocery store was just one of the basic necessities lacking in the county.

“We haven’t had a supermarket in 20 years,” he said.

In addition to the money from Obici and the county match, White received a $50,000 state grant in 2021 aimed at combating “food deserts,” which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as low-income or rural communities where at least 33% of the population lives 10 miles or more from a supermarket.

Surry’s only major grocery store shuttered in 1999. A past effort by the county to lure the Rhode Island-based Supervalu grocery store chain, now known as United Natural Foods, had proposed building a 13,500-square-foot grocery store and shopping center from the ground up on land across from the former Edwards Ham Shoppe, now Meats of Virginia. The proposed $6 million shopping center would have opened in 2020, but it never came to fruition.