Hickory, N.C., to see new grocery, restaurant

Jan. 4--A major redevelopment project in Hickory's Viewmont section will transform a popular eatery and give residents living close to downtown a grocery store for the first time in four years.

The city planning commission recently approved the project, giving the go-ahead for construction to start in the first quarter of this year and a planned spring 2010 opening.

A 50,000-square-foot Lowes Foods grocery store and a 4,000-square-foot Backstreets Bar and Grill will be separated by a parking lot off N.C. 127 North. The development will sit across 13th Avenue from Viewmont Baptist Church and behind a line of streetfront businesses that now include a Checkers fast-food restaurant and a Starbucks coffee shop.

To make space for the project, developers will tear down the current Backstreets, a laundry and an old strip shopping center on 14th Avenue, across from Hickory High School.

City Planning Director Brian Frazier said owners plan to keep the old Backstreets open until the new one is finished.

Planners and developers say the project will revitalize the spot and provide the area with its first grocery since Fresh Air Galaxy closed in 2004 to make way for a Lowe's Home Improvement store nearby.

In fact, Lowes Foods officials say they had their eye on the property that the home-improvement store bought but weren't fast enough to beat out the retail giant. When they learned that the property behind Checkers was available, they seized the opportunity to serve a "loyal customer base," said Roger Henderson, Lowes' vice president of real estate.

The grocery store will be 25 percent bigger than other Lowes in Catawba County, he said, and will carry a more extensive selection of fresh and prepared foods.

"We're not frivolously expanding," Henderson said, "but we're putting stores in markets we need to protect or defend."

The Backstreets will have more parking spaces and outdoor seating than the current building, which is wedged in a tight space.

The project follows a spate of redevelopments along this stretch of N.C. 127 in the past several years that include the Lowe's Home Improvement store and a new Cook Out restaurant on the site of the former Circus Hall of Cream.

Heavy protest from residents dogged the Lowe's home improvement project, but city planners say they've gotten no complaints about the grocery store development.