Food City has just opened its second location in Fort Oglethorpe.
The new store at 150 U.S. Highway 41 (with a Ringgold address) features a full line of groceries, an in-store and drive-through pharmacy and a large seafood and hand-rolled sushi department. All meat is cut in-house. Customers can order online and enjoy curbside pickup. There is a branch of Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union in the store, and the location will soon have a gas station.
A short trip back in time: Jack Smith was fresh out of a seven-year stint in the Navy and based in California. A job offer fell through and he decided to head back to his mother's house in southwest Virginia. One day, his mom asked him to pick up some groceries. It took Smith half an hour to buy a few items.
He decided he could create a better shopping experience. So he bought a Piggly Wiggly franchise. The year was 1955.
Today, Smith's son runs the chain that grew into Food City and now owns 132 stores.
"Growing up, during elementary and junior high school," says CEO and President Steven Smith, "we lived next to the store. I never intended to get involved in the business, but I gave it a chance and stayed with it."
Smith says he views a grocery store as something that should be community-focused and should contribute to the success of a town, helping make it a place people want to live and move to. Food City is a partially employee-owned chain, which, says Smith, is one of many things that differentiates it from big box stores.
The new, nearly 50,000-square-foot facility will employ 140-150 people, 40 percent of whom will be fulltime. Smith says the store also works with services for those with physical and mental challenges to provide some jobs for their clients.
Buying and selling locally grown produce and eggs is another of Food City's practices. Smith says it may take a while to establish the practice in this area, but it will be a goal of the local stores. "There are regulations to follow and inspections. For practical purposes, we usually have to work with larger growers, but we're happy to hear from all local farmers and let them know what the guidelines are."
The practice of buying locally, says Smith, dates back to the days in Virginia when tobacco farmers lost federal subsidies and were struggling trying to transition to growing new crops. Smith's company stepped in to help with the transition and also bought the crops and sold them in their stores.
Another of Food City's commitments is to helping local schools with "Food City School Bucks." Customers can get "loyalty cards" and register them on Food City's website, pick a school of their choice, and Food City will donate computer equipment and other items to the school based on purchases of all those who have chosen the school.
Food City also has programs that collect gifts for children in the Appalachia area and food for shelter animals. They collect for the Juvenile Diabetes Association and Race Against Hunger. They partner with NASCAR racer Richard Petty to benefit Paralyzed Veterans of America's Mission ABLE, and they are involved in many sports as sponsors and partners to benefit various causes, including cancer research.
The newest Food City held an open house and Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting Jan. 29 and opened its doors to the public for business the next morning.
"Our manager at the store is Myron McCormick," says Smith. "I think people will be pleased with the job he'll do. We're excited about expanding into the North Georgia area."
The city of Ringgold has prioritized a list of roads it would like to resurface with funding it's applying for through the Chattanooga-Hamilton County/North Georgia Transportation Planning Organization.
During the first City Council meeting of the year on Jan. 14, Ringgold officials agreed to apply for the organization's Transportation Improvement Program, which helps fund needed roadwork.
City Manager Dan Wright explained that as part of the organization, Ringgold can apply for the program and potentially get a lot of roads resurfaced while only being on the hook for a fraction of the cost.
"They (TPO) have allowed or opened up a process to amend the TIP program, so we put together a list of streets that meet the functional classification," Wright said. "It took several years to get these particular streets added to that functional classification."
The TIP includes state and local roadway, bridge, bicycle, pedestrian, safety and public transportation (transit) projects.
Wright said he and Public Works Director Mike Cagle compiled and prioritized the list of roads to include in the application.
"Those streets are Tennessee Street from High Street to Ooltewah-Ringgold Road because from High down to Nashville Street is state route that is part of the bypass," Wright said. "Then, you have Robin Road; the entire road qualifies, South Sparks Street from Nashville Street to Lafayette Street. Then, Emberson Drive; the entire street is covered, and then Candy Lane from the old portion by Wendy's going up to where we started that extension, which is about 1,000 feet on the most western end; and then Cotter Street."
Wright also explained how the finances would work, stating that the city might only have to pay 20 percent of the cost.
"We have the ability to leverage 80 percent of federal dollars on these if we can get these included in this particular year's TIP, and then the city would have to pay the 20 percent," Wright said. "We don't need to include South Depot Street, so that would reduce that 20 percent match if we wanted to include all those in there."
Wright said the city's portion of the proposed streets would be $123,970, with the total coming in at approximately $619,851.
The Council unanimously approved authorizing Mayor Nick Millwood to sign off on the application, which covers 2020, 2021 and 2022.
During the discussion, Councilman Larry Black asked about how the roads were prioritized, and Wright said Tennessee Street was at the top of the list.
"We listed these in the order of priority as we came up with them and Tennessee Street would be first primarily because of the traffic volume," Wright said.
Ringgold officials say a development team is eyeing a grant that would give the city an opportunity to redevelop the old Benton Coal building on Depot Street near City Hall.
During a recent City Council meeting, City Manager Dan Wright proposed a plan that would see the city continue its partnership with the University of Georgia's Carl Vincent Institute of Government.
"Danny Bivins with the University of Georgia would like to apply for additional funding to assist the city in the redevelopment primarily of the old Benton Coal property," Wright said.
In the spring of 2017, Bivins and his UGA colleagues were retained by the city to develop a Renaissance Strategic Visioning Plan (RSVP) for the city's future and growth.
Since then, the team has held town hall meetings, public surveys, and focus groups to gather input from the public regarding growth plans for the city.
The building redevelopment is a way to create a new unique space in a downtown that's gaining momentum.
"The desire is to make smaller spaces — three or four spaces — with public bathrooms in that building," Wright said. "The DDA (Downtown Development Authority) already owns that particular building. A portion of the grant would allow the University of Georgia staff to help do the planning and the design, and even assist with maybe creating logos and attracting businesses."
The City Council unanimously approved moving forward with applying for the $100,000 grant.
Wright said the DDA was already discussing possible design ideas with an architect and that the grant would be very beneficial for downtown.
Councilman Randall Franks, who serves as chairman of the DDA, said the new building would be great for both the downtown economy and the workforce.
"This will give us a great opportunity to bring in some new possibilities of new businesses, as well as create new employment downtown, so it's a wonderful project for the DDA," Franks said.
"It's great — the smaller spaces that's what younger entrepreneurs are looking for," Councilman Kelly Bomar added.
"It's been a year since someone told me about kratom," says former Rossville resident John Butler. "I'm thankful every day. It's changed my life."
Butler says he's lived with severe pain since he was a child. "I was seven when I realized other people's feet don't hurt all the time. I spent a year in leg braces when I was three, which is when the pain began."
Butler, a building contractor, says numerous injuries over the years, including a fall from a 32-foot roof, a screw through an eye and severe arthritis resulted in 20 years of consuming 8-14 aspirin a day in addition to daily doses of prescription narcotic painkillers that resulted in dependency.
"Because of kratom, I'm off all of that," Butler says. "It relieves my pain and I don't have cravings for it like I did for the narcotic prescription."
But many people don't view kratom the way Butler does. Catoosa County Coroner Vanita Hullander wants to see the substance that comes from the leaves of a tree grown in southeast Asian countries studied by the Food and Drug Administration and restricted until it is. Her efforts have started close to home.
Hullander ap - proached Georgia District 3 Representative DeWayne Hill of Catoosa County with her concerns. Hill responded by forming a committee to study the issue. State Sen. Jeff Mullis of Chickamauga started a committee for the same purpose in the upper house and the two joined to invite medical experts, representatives from the kratom industry and others to testify.
Mullis, who serves as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, represents the District 53, which includes Catoosa, Walker, Dade counties and portions of Chattooga County.
The House Study Committee on Risks Associated with Kratom held its first meeting in October 2018 and two subsequent meetings in December. Rep. Hill says information from the meetings is being organized and will come before the committee soon for further consideration.
Speakers at the committee's first meeting included Jack Henningfield, Ph.D., vice president of Research, Health Policy and Abuse Liability, Pinney Associates; Charles M. Haddow, Senior Fellow in Public Policy with the American Kratom Association and former chief of staff (under Reagan) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Michael McPherson, Governmental Relations Associate with the Georgia Municipal Association; Catoosa County Coroner Vanita Hullander; and Georgia State Representative Vernon Jones (District 91).
Henningfield is considered a leading expert on addiction and the behavioral, cognitive and central nervous system effects of drugs. He spoke at length about how kratom works in the brain, including how it attaches to opioid receptors in the brain but does not suppress the respiratory system, which is what kills most people who die of opioid abuse. He does not favor subjecting kratom to FDA testing as a narcotic drug, a process that can take 10 years and well over a billion dollars, but he does support regulation in the form of testing for purity, limiting who can buy kratom (no one under 18), and truthful labeling.
Henningfield said at the meeting that the FDA has been wrong on its science and on its policy regarding kratom. In 2017 the FDA sent a recommendation to the Drug Enforcement Administration suggesting that two chemicals in kratom should be classified as Schedule I drugs, the most restrictive designation. The DEA agreed, but a public outcry resulted in them backing off.
Charles Haddow of the American Kratom Association said in his testimony before the committee that he is in agreement that kratom should be tested for purity. He defended the value he says kratom offers its users — a way to get off opioids, including prescription opioids, and a way to manage pain and generally feel better. He echoed Henningfield's judgment of 44 kratom-related deaths cited by the FDA in some of its documents, pointing out that nine of those deaths occurred within a short period in Sweden where the kratom that was ingested had been adulterated with other drugs, and all but one of the remaining deaths involved multiple harmful substances the deceased had taken, making it impossible to pinpoint a specific cause of death. Haddow suggested that regulation and inspections could weed out the "bad players" and assure that the kratom entering the country is pure. He said it was not the kratom that was the problem, but the contamination of kratom by other substances.
Michael McPherson with the Georgia Municipal Association told the committee that one of his main concerns is the ability of the state to respond swiftly and strongly to tainted kratom. "The cities in Georgia are often the first to recognize threats at the local level and are well-positioned to be the first to react," McPherson said. He emphasized that the state of Georgia can take action on the issue without depending on the FDA.
Catoosa County Coroner Vanita Hullander told the committee she has grave concerns about kratom. One of them, she said, is claims online that the substance is a cure-all for everything from pain to diabetes. "To me that is totally irresponsible," she said and expressed concerns about people turning away from doctor-prescribed medicines hoping for a miracle cure in kratom.
Hullander said the U.S. has a long history of dealing with drugs that were considered miracle cures when they were first introduced, including morphine, heroin and cocaine, and sold legally until the devastating effects became apparent, and she's concerned that kratom is yet another "trade-off" — the exchange of one problem for another.
"I know a lot of people are claiming kratom helps with pain," said Hullander, "but I have talked to numerous people who say they use it for the opiate effect at high doses. Our country has a real problem with addiction."
Hullander also said she does not appreciate what she considers strongarmed tactics of some people in the kratom industry. She said the last time she spoke out against kratom, the American Kratom Association sent "harassing" letters to the Catoosa County Board of Commissioners and the Georgia Coroners Association lodging complaints about her public comments regarding kratom. She told the committee that in addition to restricting kratom until it can be further studied, she hopes they will protect the freedom of those who speak out against kratom.
Rep. Vernon Jones (District 91) spoke last. He told the committee he is a kratom user. "I am a responsible user of kratom," he said. "It is my choice to use kratom. I have not had any problems using kratom." Vernon likened kratom to the natural remedies his mother used when he was growing up, but he said he recognizes that "like any product, it can be adulterated and cause problems." Vernon said he supports protecting the public from tainted product but wants to be sure the government does not overreach.
"I think we're all in agreement on this in one respect," said Rep. Hill during a recent interview. "We need quality control, honest packaging and further study. And we need to protect children. This is a complex issue and our committee is taking it very seriously. I would be happy to hear from more people on this issue as we work toward a recommendation for the next steps."
October meeting of The House Study Committee on Risks Associated with Kratom: livestream.com/accounts/25225474/events/8329467/videos/181221623
Following "the Roots" of Kratom: ncbi.nim.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4657101
PBS News Hour Report on Kratom: youtube.com/watch?v=Nmq rWlrie4g&feature=youtu.be
"A Leaf of Faith," documentary exploring many views on kratom, available on Amazon.com and Netflix
FACTS ABOUT KRATOM
What is kratom? Kratom is an evergreen tree in the coffee family. Its scientific name is mitragyna speciosa. The leaves are used in various forms to produce products people consume to manage pain, withdraw from opioids and enhance mood, among other things.
How do people use kratom? Kratom is most often made into a powder and mixed into teas and juices or put into capsules.
Where does kratom come from? Mostly from Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.
Is kratom legal in the United States? According the American Kratom Association, kratom is banned in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. A ban in Tennessee was reversed as of July 2018, but only plain leaf kratom is allowed and only for those aged 21 and over. Some cities have banned kratom.