The Celia Saxon neighborhood was revitalized about 15 years ago from row-style public housing to more modern and traditional affordable housing.
One of the keys to its success was to have a nearby grocery store serving the elderly, those without transportation and other issues with mobility. A previous store wasn’t successful, resulting in what is referred to as a “food desert” – a neighborhood without a store within one mile.
But on Wednesday, the national Sav-A-Lot discount food chain is opening a grocery in the neighborhood, with the help of a non-profit financial firm and a group of veterans.
“We want to provide affordable, fresh food to the areas of greatest need,” said Marcus Scarborough, of the group Honor Capital LLC, made up of Navy veterans who wanted to give other veterans an opportunity to open their own businesses.
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Scarborough, a Richland Northeast High School and Naval Academy graduate, will operate the store. Honor Capital will lease the store from the Columbia Housing Authority and manage it. The for-profit group received 80 percent funding for the $750,000 project from the South Carolina Community Loan Fund, which uses government grants, privates contributions and others funds to boost investment in underserved areas.
“Our mission is to advance equitable access to capital,” said Anna Hamilton Lewin, the fund’s strategic initiatives director, who noted that the nearest grocery store now is the Food Lion in Five Points.
“It can often be a two-, a three-hour journey to and from the grocery store from some of these areas,” she said. “And it’s expensive if you have to take a cab.”
Elizabeth Taylor, a 69-year-old Celia Saxon resident for the past three years and a lifelong Columbia resident, said she was thrilled the store is opening.
“Especially to those of us that don’t have transportation, it would be a godsend,” Taylor said when the store was announced. “Because whatever I spend on groceries, I have to add at least $10 for transportation. ... It will be a savings because that’s $10 or more that we can apply to our limited incomes.”
Save-A-Lot specializes in offering fresh produce and meats at prices up to 40 percent lower than other grocery stores, and 15 percent less than Wal-Mart, Scarborough said.
“It’s like Aldi with fresh meat and produce,” he said.
Save-a-lot has more than 1,300 stores nationwide, including one on Garners Ferry Road in Columbia and one on Airport Boulevard in West Columbia. Honor Capital plans to open six or seven stores around the country and in the Caribbean in 2015 and as many as 30 by the end of 2017, according to the group.
“We’re for-profit, but for a good cause,” Scarborough said.