Rachael Scarborough King
Star Staff Writer
Published: June 23, 2006
ALEXANDRIA – For years, residents gathered at the store at the corner of Alexandria-Wellington Road and Jacksonville-Alexandria Highway to visit with neighbors as they did their grocery shopping.
In 1991, the store stopped operating as a full grocery when it changed ownership and was renamed Valley Meats and Deli, leaving the community without a grocery.
Now, as Alexandria experiences a residential surge with new subdivisions already built and several more in the works, businesses are rushing to fill in the gaps for people’s commercial needs.
Two years ago, a shopping center with a supermarket went in on U.S. 431, a few blocks away from Valley Meats and Deli. Cheaha Bank recently opened a branch in the same shopping center.
Since the beginning of 2004, 195 new business licenses have been issued in Alexandria, according to Barry Robertson, Calhoun County license commissioner.
“In the last 10 years the growth that’s happened out there, I wouldn’t know the number of new businesses that have opened out there but it’s quite a few,” said Sam Prichard, who opened Alexandria Foodland on U.S. 431 two years ago.
Business owners in the area said the commercial development fills a need for old and new residents, who no longer have to drive to Saks or Jacksonville to shop.
“There just wasn’t a convenient place for people to shop,” Prichard said. “There were smaller stores out there, but some people would drive to a Wal-Mart or Winn-Dixie or Food World, and we brought that out there to them.”
John Burgess, a lifelong Alexandria resident who has owned the 144 Pawn Shop for the last eight years, said the growth has helped his business by bringing more customers to the area.
“Business makes business, you know, it draws people,” Burgess said.
He added that Alexandria is not the small “country community” it once was.
“It’s nothing negative … urban people just probably think or live differently,” he said. “I think it becomes more impersonal.”
Jessica Smith, manager of the three-year-old Subway sandwich shop on U.S. 431, said her customers do not seem to be exclusively Alexandria residents, but come from many parts of the county.
“I’ve had a lot of people tell me they prefer this Subway over a lot of the other ones,” she said. “I’ve heard my employees are friendlier.”
She added that in the three years she has worked in Alexandria she has seen a great deal of commercial growth.
“When I first started working there wasn’t a Jack’s or anything and (they’re) kind of putting all kinds of businesses and stuff around here,” she said.
Smith added that the new restaurants – which also include a Sonic and Huddle House – do not take business away from Subway because it is “just a healthier choice.”
Chief Deputy Matthew Wade of the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office said crime has not gone up in the area with the influx of new residents, but that the number of calls the sheriff’s office receives has.
“When you bring … all those people into the county jurisdiction you’re going to see not necessarily more crimes but more calls for service,” he said. “The sheriff’s office has seen a dramatic increase in the number of calls for service.”
Additionally, the new businesses mean that more cars are turning on and off U.S. 431, Wade said. That stretch of the road has a speed limit of 65 mph, creating the conditions for serious accidents even if drivers are not speeding.
Burgess, the owner of 144 Pawn Shop, said the business growth seems to have leveled off. Both he and J.D. Hess, the county commissioner for the area, said development in Alexandria is hindered by the lack of a sewer system.
“If we can ever get that completed – and that’s a major project – … that will bring more shopping and restaurants to that end of the county,” Hess said.
Burgess said the businesses in the Alexandria Foodland shopping center put in their own system, but that for a single store or restaurant “the cost wouldn’t be feasible.”
Despite the growth, many residents continue to think of Alexandria as a small, close-knit community. Lynn Edwards, owner of Valley Meats and Deli, said people driving through on U.S. 431 might think that the area has been transformed in recent years, but that actually “the community feeling has not changed.”
“There’s a lot more people here and there’s a lot more activity … but the atmosphere has not changed,” Edwards said.