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TOUR: Earth Fare - West Ashley, Charleston, SC

Earth Fare
Opened: July 2020
Previous Tenants: A&P > Earth Fare (closed February 2020)
Location: 74 Folly Rd Blvd, West Ashley, Charleston, SC
Photographed: January 2022
Yesterday we saw a former A&P that's since become an IGA, about three and a half miles outside of downtown Charleston on route 17. We are about two miles outside of downtown here, where routes 17 and 171 (Savannah Hwy and Folly Rd Blvd) come togethr to see another former A&P. This Earth Fare takes up the former A&P along with the former Walgreens next to it, as we see in this historical photo. Based on the store model, I'd wager a bet that this was a pre-Centennial store, probably of the same era as the Doscher's, but was never converted to the Centennial format. And it still has a tower!
The combined A&P and Walgreens spaces add up to just under 25,000 square feet. We enter on the right side, in the former Walgreens space, to produce in the front right corner and bulk foods, coffee, and cheese taking up the rest of the first aisle. From what I remember, beer is in the back right corner with dairy on the back wall, then meat and seafood in the back left corner. In the old A&P space, deli and bakery line the left-side wall with a cafe in the front left corner and HABA in the front half of the building. As we'll see, there's an architectural reminder of A&P inside too.
Earth Fare declared bankruptcy, went out of business, and then promptly returned to operating a select group of stores in 2020. This was one of the stores that closed for a few months but it looks like nothing was really done to the store before it was reopened other than simple restocking.
Today, Earth Fare operates 24 stores in an odd assortment of states (North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee). While I thought this store was attractive and appealing, it felt unnecessarily expensive (comparing prices of organic/natural items to what I pay at home at ShopRite, ACME, and Food Bazaar). The product mix was good, but not outstanding. I'm not sure this is a sustainable concept for the long term, but it is a well-run store. In other words, the problems come from not the in-store operations but the bigger-picture strategy, as far as I can tell. It's a hard location too, just a mile away from a beautiful Whole Foods.
We continue into the first aisle for an extensive bulk department, complete with a coffee selection.
Looking back up towards the front of the store. While this Earth Fare seems to be doing alright, given the amount of perishable selection that would've been cut back if the store weren't doing well, we do see a few signs that the store isn't operating to its full potential. There are a few counters, such as the cut fruit counter at the front, that would've originally been service counters but are not staffed, making everything self-service.

Beer and wine in the back right corner. And opposite that is the cheese department...
This is a very attractively designed and merchandised area, but again, this would've originally been a staffed service counter but is no longer staffed. I love the hanging department signage.
The decor is also quite nice here, with the bright colors and bold lettering.
Moving on to dairy in the back of the store. Again, nice decor, and pretty new fixtures too. You can see the doorway between the A&P space to the left and the Walgreens space, which we're standing in.
Pretty standard-looking grocery aisles. I'm not sure about previous iterations of Earth Fare, but this one sells Field Day products from UNFI. While I really like the brand, it tends to be on the expensive side (which is why I typically go for Seven Farms, the organic brand from The Federated Group via Bozzuto's, at Food Bazaar which also sells Field Day). But here, it was even more expensive than it usually is at Food Bazaar. I'm not sure that the premium pricing strategy is the best way here, but it might just be what the company can do at this moment.
As we move into the former A&P space, we have meat and seafood on the back wall. This would've all been an expansion out of the back of the A&P or perhaps backroom space, but when we get into the sales floor of the A&P, we do have a beautiful design feature...
A&P's original wood and metal beam barrel roof is exposed and beautifully intact! As we can see in a few places, it's not in the greatest shape, but it's been taken care of pretty well. It's certainly a fantastic design feature to have it exposed.
I was unaware that this was present before walking in, and it was quite the surprise to go from the first few aisles to this. A pleasant one!
Aisle 5 is the first aisle in the A&P space, and aisle 6 is frozen foods in the back. As we see, the front part of the store is HABA.
The circular hanging signage works very well here. Overall, the store looks great (except I would make the flooring something more exciting).
Here we have the bakery department, which as we see was not fully stocked. Again, that's a sign this store isn't making as much revenue as it was designed for. But I did really enjoy the loaf of bread I bought here.
Towards the front of the store we have the Deli and Kitchen. As we see, there's not a lot of staff present here, and although I was here at an off-peak time, it didn't feel like a very high-volume store. It's a shame because it's quite nice and the products seemed to be of very good quality.
Prepared foods and juice bar towards the front, with the cafe in the corner.
The design of this area is really spectacular! And a look at the front end, which is located entirely in the A&P space. We also get just a tiny glimpse of the doorway into the Walgreens side in the below picture...
That's all for this Earth Fare! I'm very glad I got to check it out since it's a unique store and an interesting situation of closing and reopening. Well, I've talked about it quite a bit but now it's time to actually get into the center city area of Charleston! Downtown Charleston does have a Publix, which looks beautiful but rather bland, but we won't be stopping by there. Instead, we'll be checking out two independent stores (one recently closed) north of downtown, with one on The Independent Edition and one on Grocery Archaeology!

Update Local expert Carlton Swift says: "Earth Fare was an A&P until 1975. Then it became a Piggly Wiggly until about 1997. In 1997, it became the original Earth Fare chain’s second location. After a few years, it expanded into the former Walgreens -> Kerr Drugs next-door. I don’t remember the exact date of that. Early 200s, I believe. This was the last A&P location in Charleston. Newspaper ads say it became a WEO store, but I don’t believe it was ever signed as such."

Comments

  1. I was originally going to comment on how nice this store's décor is anyway, but that exposed barrel roof just takes everything to the next level! Pricing issues (which are a shame) aside, this is an impressive store.

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