'Sad day': Northwest Roanoke grocery store closes, limiting food options for hundreds

Customer: 'I don't know what I'm going to do.'

“This was a savior to our community and now that it’s gone, I don’t know what these people are going to do"

ROANOKE, Va. – Save A Lot, a discount grocery store on Melrose Avenue in northwest Roanoke, abruptly closed for good Monday, further limiting food options for hundreds of people in the area.

Many people were surprised and disappointed when they walked up to the door, expecting to go in and shop, only to learn that the store had closed its doors for good, including Morris Bates, who shopped there when money got low -- when just paying for the drive to Valley View Mall was challenging.

“So many stores, but not enough gas,” he said. “Now, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Traveling to grocery stores located farther away can be tough for many. 

“This was a savior to our community and now that it’s gone, I don’t know what these people are going to do that don’t have the transportation to be able to get way out there on the other side of town.” Habibah Yasin said.

Food deserts, or areas where options are limited, are a growing problem in Virginia and around the country, according to the USDA, which outlines these low-income areas of northwest Roanoke as being in one.

Dollar stores are common nearby. They sell some food but usually not produce, and options are limited.

Everett Ward, the local owner, said he wanted to stay open but he couldn’t keep it going.

“We’ve tried hard to make it work here and, with all the new competition and the discount grocery business, we just weren’t able to make it work. It’s really sad, but that’s just the way it is.” 

A Save A Lot company spokesperson said Friday that the location would be closing in August, a notice that made its way to many customers, further increasing the confusion at the closure Monday.

Roanoke leaders have struggled to find potential grocery store owners to set up shop in some areas of the city.

They’re in talks right now with some developers and they’re looking at whether they can use grant funding to help sweeten the deal.

“It still comes down to being able to get someone who thinks that they can operate it and actually conduct their business at some sort of profit,” Roanoke City Manager Bob Cowell said.

Neighbors said lots of elderly people and people using wheelchairs shopped at Save A Lot over the 11 years it was in business. Now, their choice is between dollar stores that may not have as many fresh options or paying to travel a little farther, if they’re able to do so.

One idea floating around in the community is to get produce and other fresh food into dollar stores, perhaps through a partnership with the city.

Feeding America Southwest Virginia is educating people on how to eat healthy and doesn't like the fact that options are becoming more limited.

“If they’re not available and they’re not affordable then that still poses a problem. We will continue to work in this community. We will continue to be an advocate for affordable, fresh nutritious foods for the people that live here,” President Pamela Irvine said.

She believes the lack of options takes a huge toll on the community, particularly with the number of people who rely on public transportation.