Market Owner: Developer Closing "This Week" on Bell's Store

The owner of Cherokee Market Farm Fresh Produce said the developer who wants to build a convenience store in place of Bell's Store is moving ahead with his plans.

Cherokee Market Farm Fresh Produce. Credit: Kristal Dixon
Cherokee Market Farm Fresh Produce. Credit: Kristal Dixon
The current tenant of a historic store in the Buffington community said she most likely will have to find a new home.

Lisa Meyer, owner of Cherokee Market Farm Fresh Produce, said she's been told the Macon-based developer looking to demolish Bell's Store to make way for a Flash Foods convenience store, plans to close on the deal this week to purchase the property from owner Robert Bolt. 

Meyer said he's been told the developer, Jim Rollins of The Summit Group, plans to make the trip to her store and present to her a new lease, which she said most likely would be six months.

"As far as I know I’m going to have to move eventually," she said. "I’m pretty sure they are tearing the place down."

Rollins' plans to demolish the old Bell's Store has drawn widespread criticism from many residents who patronize Meyer's business. A petition was created asking Rollins to leave the store in place. 

The developer's plans propelled the Cherokee County Commission to impose a 90-day moratorium on the demolition on non-residential structures in unincorporated Cherokee County.  

Rollins has not returned calls or emails requesting comment.

The fate of Bell's Store was on the minds of about 20 residents on Monday who peppered Cherokee County District 1 Commissioner Harry Johnston with questions about the status of the structure, as well as the proposed historic preservation ordinance

The proposed ordinance would establish a Historic Preservation Commission, which would hear requests to demolish historic properties and issue permits. 

As part of the proposed ordinance, developers would have to wait a certain period of time to give residents the opportunity to weigh in on plans and for developers to explore alternatives to demolishing the structures.

If no economically viable alternatives are found, developers could then proceed with plans to tear down structures. 

Johnston noted it could be "too late" to save Bell's Store. However, he hopes the situation serves as the "catalyst" to propel the county to put a plan in place to possibly save other historic structures. 

While many in the audience were opposed to Bell's Store's demolition and in favor of the moratorium, at least one family who owns a staple business in the Free Home community was skeptical of the ordinance.

Patti Martin, whose family owns Free Home Traditions, said those in the community should not fault Bolt's plans to sell Bell's Store. Her family has had Free Home Traditions up for sale, which she said "hasn't been an easy decision."

"With the recent economy, I'm not going to lie; we are struggling," she said. "We are struggling to make it."

The family has wanted to open a restaurant inside their retail store, but Martin said they are "limited" due to their location and setup. 

Since they are located across the highway from Free Home Elementary School, they can't get an alcohol pouring license that would go along with a restaurant. 

Also, since they utilize a septic system, they are limited in how much water they could use, thus forcing them to resort to using paper cups and paper plates if they were to open a restaurant. 

She also criticized the moratorium, adding her establishment wasn't even notified their business was placed on the list of properties subject to the moratorium. 

Martin said she and her family has poured close to three quarters of a million dollars into the building since they opened, and have not gotten nothing in return for their investment. 

"What we've done to historically preserve (the building) has not been rewarded in any way," she added. 

She also said the ordinance amounted to the government stepping on the toes of private property owners.

She also said that while it's "easy" for residents to sign a petition demanding Rollins to leave Bell's Store in place, the owner and investors of the property still have to pay insurance, property taxes and make the necessary expenditures to maintain the facility.

"And if you don't have a viable business, then how will you continue to do that...if you can't sell it?" she asked. 

In the end, Meyer said she agreed. She noted Bolt has the right to sell his property to anyone he desires, and said she just hopes she can stay in Bell's Store for up to nine months, which would get her through another growing and harvesting season.  

Meyer said she's been trying to turn the situation from a negative into a positive one. Not only have customers been supportive of her venture, they've also helped her find a possible new location for the market.

She added many of her customers have told her they will "not set foot" in Flash Foods if it's constructed on the site. 

"They don’t want any part of it," she said. "I’m very grateful and thankful for the support."

Meyer noted she is used to trials and tribulations. While she operated a small store in Florida, she had to abruptly close up shop and return to Georgia to deal with family matters. 

She noted she believed the setback was a signal to her that God had better plans for her. And since then, she said returning to Georgia has given her the popular market, which she said is "100 times better" than what she had in Florida.  

"Maybe the good Lord has better plans for me in the future," she said. "It will all work out bigger and better for Cherokee Market." 

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