COLUMBIA — Shopping in the new Lucky's Market on Tuesday morning, Hunter Garza had an apple, an orange and a bottle of Sriracha, but he said he wouldn't mix them for lunch.
Garza, who lives on nearby Garth Street, came in to see what the new grocery was all about. Less concerned with the store's selection, he said, "I go where the deals are." A deal here is called a "Lucky Break."
Lucky's opened Tuesday to the public with 30,000 square feet of food, health products and an 11,000-square-foot liquor store with a tasting bar.
The store, which holds its official "bacon cutting" ceremony at 10 a.m. Wednesday, is the only full-service grocery store downtown. It moved into the old Osco Drug building that had been vacant for 10 years.
Lucky's was sparsely occupied Tuesday morning, with new employees in seemingly equal numbers to shoppers. Oranges, on sale for 99 cents a pound, were piled in a large, untouched pyramid. Near the deli was an orderly tray of bacon samples. In the liquor room, 50 coolers of beer lined the back wall.
Owner Bo Sharon has high hopes for the store, his first in Missouri and fourth in the country. He plans to host live music every Friday night after opening a patio beer garden in the near future.
"Nobody is doing what we're doing," he said.
Things were still coming together on Tuesday. Tables for a cafe near the entrance, for example, were rented.
The store will accept SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, but it will take about a month for the store to get government approval. The store will not accept WIC benefits.
Sharon, who was an actor as a child, said he became interested in food at a young age. He started taking cooking lessons from a family friend at the age of 4 and later went to culinary school. Choosing a favorite meal is like choosing a favorite kid, he said.
In 2003, he opened the first Lucky's store in Boulder, Colo., and said he wanted to open one in Columbia because he thought it was a vibrant place. He plans to open five more locations across the country this year.
Sharon said employee benefits include health insurance, an additional $200 every year to spend on their health and a birthday bonus. In addition, Lucky's pays each employee for up to 32 hours of volunteer work in the city.
Like other grocery stores in the area, Lucky's supports local charities, choosing different groups every three months, said store manager Joshua Lydick. When customers bring in reusable bags, the store donates 10 cents to a charity of their choice. Current beneficiaries include PedNet, First Chance for Children and the Community Garden Coalition of Columbia and Boone County.
The addition of a grocery store to downtown Columbia will help alleviate the difficulty of getting fresh food, a problem known as food desert — an area where the majority of people below the poverty line live more than a mile from a grocery store and have poor access to transportation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
One problem remaining, however, is the lack of safe transportation across Providence Road. The intersection at Cherry Street has no crosswalk, and the intersection at Locust Street has no crosswalk signal. The lack of a sidewalk up to the store means customers must walk up the driveway.
Lydick made a note of the crosswalk issue on his to-do list.