A cocoa grocery store serving an area where many do not have a vehicle reopened after the city secured the necessary funding through the US bailout.

Florida today

When two grocery stores in the same part of Cocoa closed less than a week apart earlier this year, residents and city officials were concerned.

Questions poured into Town Hall: What about the safety of those who walk or use scooters to get to a store in this low-income neighborhood, especially the elderly? Where can they easily buy now? Can anyone help?

Now, in a turnaround that made many people very happy, the Save a Lot grocery store on Dixon Boulevard has reopened just two months after it closed.

April 13, The municipal cocoa council has voted authorize the city manager to use American Rescue Plan Act funding to help Save a Lot owners get the business back on track. The agreement will provide economic assistance funding up to a maximum of $ 450,000, with eligible expenses including restocking, unpaid bills, major repairs, rental assistance and salaries.

With around 13% of Cocoa’s population not owning a vehicle, having a place to buy affordable, nutritious, and quality food within walking distance is crucial throughout the city, Mayor Mike Blake said.

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Officials have worked, he said, to prevent the region from becoming a food desert, defined by the US Department of Agriculture as “a low-income census tract where at least 500 people, or 33% of the population, live at least 1 mile from a supermarket or large grocery store. ”

“With these funds, we are responding to the needs of the people and a concern of the community,” said Blake. “I think the continued relationship the company will have with the community is very important. Everyone has a little piece of skin in the game, which I think is imperative.”

Save a Lot had been plagued by financial and supply problems before it closed on March 27. This was followed on the first weekend in April by the departure of a Harveys store, owned by Southeastern Grocers, half a mile from Dixon Boulevard and Clearlake Road.

The volume of phone calls about store closures demonstrated the need for swift action, said Blake, “and I’m happy to say we were able to save one.”

A Friday event hosted community members for a ribbon cutting with store owners, city officials and a representative of the Save a Lot corporate team. The official celebration began at 4 p.m. But at 8 a.m., residents who had heard of the reopening via social media or word of mouth stopped. Eight hours later, a steady stream of buyers arrived.

Mike Medearis, owner for 13 years, said almost everyone who had worked at Save a Lot has been rehired.

“We are very fortunate that the city is coming to help us reopen,” said Medearis, who greeted the guests with her son, Mark.

“We knew what it was doing to the community, the shutdown. But we just couldn’t keep it open with what was going on; COVID and supply issues. We were able to eliminate some and the city helped us. “

Virgie Prude has lived in the neighborhood near Save a Lot for 53 years. As she loaded frozen food into her cart on Friday, she said the reopening was good for a neighborhood where many have to walk to the store and where older residents of a nearby senior housing community use scooters for shopping.

“It’s a blessing. We have to thank our president for that,” Prude said. “Both stores closed at the same time, it was hard on the people who live nearby.”

This deal is, said Blake, “absolutely” a good use of federal funding, falling into the category designated to help small businesses that suffered during COVID.

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A lot of people are struggling to make ends meet in this area of ​​Brevard County. The ALICE 2016 report – ALICE standing for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed – published by United Way looked at households earning more than the federal poverty line, but less than the base cost of living for the county. In cocoa, it is 59%.

The 13-page agreement between the city and Save a Lot states, in part, that the store is located in a “vitally important commercial place that not only serves the community, but serves the economically disadvantaged areas of the city of Cocoa with higher poverty rates and low mobility rate. “

The funding is a deferred loan, which means that no interest will accrue on the principal of the full grant amount, and payment to the city will be deferred for the duration of the five-year agreement. The loan depreciates 20% each year, and after five years, will be forfeited in its entirety as long as the store owners comply with all of the terms and conditions of the agreement.

The Save a Lot outdoor mall is owned by Celebration Tabernacle Church, which purchased the property for more than $ 2.1 million in 2014.

Errol Beckford, pastor of Celebration, said the reopening “brings joy to the community” to those who have viewed Save a Lot as a staple of neighborhood life for years.

“They are very happy, because this is their store,” he said. “And when it’s closed, it’s like part of your life is closed. I think it was the best thing, with this COVID money, to bring this community back to life.”

Contact Kennerly at 321-242-3692 or [email protected] Twitter: @bybrittkennerly Facebook: / bybrittkennerly.

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