BREAKING: Earth Fare to reopen up to 5 Charlotte-area stores

Company plans 'rebirth' under new ownership and signs new leases in Ballantyne, Fort Mill and Concord, executive says; ‘absolutely interested’ in SouthPark

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Earth Fare said in February it was closing all its stores, including this one in SouthPark. But under new ownership, the company is making a comeback.

Barely six months after filing for bankruptcy and closing all its locations, Earth Fare plans to re-enter the Charlotte market and open as many as five stores in the area — possibly by the end of the year.

In an interview Wednesday with The Ledger, the organic grocer’s new executive handling real estate, Randy Talley, said that Earth Fare has signed leases to reopen its old stores in Ballantyne, Fort Mill and Concord and is “absolutely interested” in reopening its location in SouthPark. It’s also scouting an undisclosed fifth Charlotte-area spot.

Covid-era turnaround: It’s a remarkable reversal of fortune for Earth Fare, made possible probably because of Covid and the hefty new profits generated by the grocery industry as more people stay home and cook. In February, the Asheville-based company said it was saddled with $65M in debt, closed all 50 of its stores and laid off nearly 3,300 workers after filing for bankruptcy protection.

But Talley, known in Charlotte as the owner of the old Talley’s Green Grocery in Dilworth (now Fresh Market on East Boulevard), started working old investor friends and former organic grocery executives in Asheville to try to buy some of the former locations. They believed that the company had run up too much debt under private-equity ownership.

Started as Asheville ‘hippie operation’: “They must have grown too fast and opened stores that they probably shouldn’t have opened,” founder Roger Derrough told The Ledger in February. He started Earth Fare as a small store called “Dinner for the Earth” on Merrimon Avenue north of downtown Asheville in 1975 at age 24. It started as a “little hippie operation” that consisted mostly of small barrels of grain, he said at the time.

When they heard of Earth Fare’s liquidation, Talley, Derrough and others sprang into action because they always believed in the idea that shoppers are hungry for natural foods. The main investor is Dennis Hulsing, who owns Asheville’s Crowne Plaza Resort. The new team picked up three stores and the company name in a March bankruptcy auction and have been working ever since to sign new leases on some of the old Earth Fare locations.

No ‘Game of Thrones’: The new company now operates 11 stores, including one in Rock Hill, and hopes to have 25 by the end of the year, Talley said. They’ve assembled a team of experienced grocery executives who believe in its vision and want to stick to its roots. “It’s been exciting,” he said. “I have a passion for the natural and organic food industry. I had exited from it because it had become a ‘Game of Thrones,’ with titans who run the show.”

Under new ownership, the stores will continue to stock natural and organic foods and put a premium on customer service.

“This is not the Earth Fare that died,” Talley said. “This is the Earth Fare that was born. This is a rebirth of the company, with all the values restored.”

Related Ledger articles:

Four factors that flattened Earth Fare,” (Feb. 5)

As Earth Fare shelves empty, founder is left ‘sad and angry,’” (Feb. 7, second item)

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Executive editorTony MeciaManaging editorCristina BollingContributing editor: Tim Whitmire; Reporting intern: David Griffith