You might think Santa arrived a week early for the more than 50 neighbors and city officials who braved brisk morning temperatures to rejoice over Earth Fare's plans to open a grocery store at the Winthrop Commons shopping center.
"You guys are like the second coming of the Messiah," Ed FitzGerald told an Earth Fare executive at Tuesday morning's ceremony. "It will be nice to have a grocery store I can walk to again."
FitzGerald, who lives several blocks away from the store, was joined by dozens of neighbors in front of the former Harris Teeter where the organic and natural foods store will open. It was quite a celebration -- complete with appearances by local dignitaries and free refreshments -- for a supermarket that won't open until summer.
Many people living near the shopping center and in the surrounding Winthrop University community have eagerly awaited a neighborhood grocery since Harris Teeter closed its doors last year.
Earth Fare CEO Mike Cianciarulo said after word leaked out that his company was eyeing the property, he received several phone calls from neighbors requesting he open the store at the Commons on Cherry Road.
"I think you calling me made the difference," he told the jubilant crowd.
The Asheville, N.C.-based chain with locations in Charlotte's SouthPark and Ballantyne areas, said it plans to open in Rock Hill by the end of June. Renovations to the 25,000-square-foot space already are under way.
"One of our objectives is to recycle old buildings," Cianciarulo said. "The things we're going to bring will make Rock Hill a great, great city. I think we're going to build a beautiful store and further complete Rock Hill."
Earth Fare will be unlike any other grocery in Rock Hill. It boasts organic and natural foods and products, milk in glass bottles with cream floating on top and a cafe serving freshly-prepared sandwiches and other dishes.
City officials hailed the store as a major step forward for economic development in Rock Hill's "Old Town," the area within a 1.5 mile radius of downtown often overlooked for new developments.
"I know you're happy about this," Mayor Doug Echols told the audience Tuesday, many who had signed a petition this year asking officials to recruit a neighborhood grocer. "This is another signal of our continuing progressive development."