East Chattanooga ‘food desert’ gets new grocery oasis with IGA store opening

Photo by Dave Flessner / A new IGA grocery store opens Friday at 2300 Dodson Ave. near Glass Street. The store was formerly a Save A Lot and the building has previously housed a Sunnytown Supermarket and Red Food Store.

Note: The supermarket reopened on Friday, Sept. 1.

An East Chattanooga grocery store that has struggled to survive under different owners and brands is reopening again next month as an IGA supermarket.

The 17,976-square-foot grocery store at 2300 Dodson Ave. near Glass Street first opened in 1954 as a Red Food Store and has opened and closed since under the Sunnytown Supermarket and Save A Lot brands.

Local businessman Chaudry Ali, who also owns Rogers Super Market on East Main Street, said he closed the Save A Lot store on the site seven months ago after operating the discount store for just over a year.

IGA offers more brand food items and should improve food and grocery options in East Chattanooga, Ali said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has labeled East Chattanooga a "food desert" because of the lack of readily accessible fresh fruits, vegetables and other grocery items for local residents.

"IGA is a better company and has a much better selection," Ali said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Ali is looking forward to reopening the store as Hamilton County's only IGA grocery, he said. He expects to have a staff of around 12 employees. The store is being stocked and retrofitted for next month's store opening.

IGA stands for Independent Grocers Alliance. The national chain has other grocery stores nearby in Calhoun and McCaysville, Georgia, and Rockwood and Fayetteville, Tennesee.

  photo  Photo by Dave Flessner / IGA sign over a remodeled grocery store in East Chattanooga says the new store is still seeking to hire workers ahead of its scheduled opening Friday. The new grocery store is located at 2300 Dodson Ave.

IGA is the largest affiliation of independent grocers in the U.S. and around the world, boasting more than 1,700 U.S. stores and more than 6,200 groceries worldwide, according to the company.

The Save A Lot on Dodson Avenue opened in 2019, aided by a $30,000 grant from the city of Chattanooga to help cover the expense of signs and exterior work and provide a fresh food option in one of Chattanooga's food deserts.

Jermaine Freeman, the chief of staff for Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly and the city's former director of economic development, said the city has not provided any additional assistance for the business. But he said Kelly's administration is always looking for ways to help local communities address local needs and challenges.

"We want to continue to explore any sorts of tools that may exist that we are not using that may help us to ensure that all areas of town have access to fresh food," Freeman said in a phone interview.

Chattanooga City Council Member Demetrus Coonrod of Eastdale called the store reopening "great news" and said the addition of a fresh food outlet in a food desert "can be a catalyst for positive change, addressing nutritional disparities and fostering economic growth in an area that has become marginalized."

"It is more important that community members support local grocery stores to enhance their well-being and uplift the entire community," she said in an emailed statement.

Contact Dave Flessner at [email protected] or 423-757-6340.