For the first time in decades, all of Food City's corporate-level employees are under one roof, in a sleek, bright, shiny building nestled in the historic district of downtown Abingdon.
"We had folks spread out over five different buildings across Abingdon and Washington County," said Steve Smith, president and CEO of K-VA-T, the company that oversees grocery chain Food City. "It's helpful to put us all together. ... We're already seeing that's a better way to do business."
Food City employees held an open house for members of the media, local businesses and vendors Thursday afternoon.
Food City purchased the old Johnston Memorial Hospital building in 2011, along with its parking garage, clinic and the Eastman Credit Union building. The facility sits on 17 acres.
The old hospital was torn down and a new one built in about 18 months, starting in spring 2012, Smith said. About 80 percent of the materials were recycled, and parts of the old building were used in the new one, he said.
The parking garage was renovated and is still in use. Employees were moved in by floors, and it took about a month to get the 400 or so work stations set up in the new space.
Smith said it was important to him to keep the facility in Abingdon, where the company has been headquartered since it moved from Grundy in the 1970s.
"Abingdon has been home for a number of years," he said. "Certainly, the historical part of Abingdon is a real draw. I'm proud to say that the town and the county were very supportive of this facility. ... We found it to be in our best interests to stay here in Abingdon and keep our home at home."
Jim Street, of J.A. Street and Associates of Blountville, Tenn., oversaw construction. He's been working with Food City since the early 1980s.
"Getting it all up and operating sure makes you feel good," he said. "You get cold chills when you come in and see it being used for what it's meant to be used for."
The four-story building features a food prep kitchen, full-service cafe, data center and more than 400 work stations with room to grow, Smith said.
"There are a lot of moving parts to running a grocery store," he said, adding that the center will also serve as a recruiting tool.
Smith said he's proud of the full-service cafe where employees can spend time together as well as a revolving art exhibit that will be installed in a hallway through a partnership with Mallory Fine Art, based in Abingdon.
"We've got a lot of salespeople, vendors and manufacturers that come in, and we hope we can sell some local Southwest Virginia or Northeast Tennessee art," he said. "That's one of the things that being a hometown, local company, we thought that was a neat thing ... if we can help an artist sell his wares as well that's even better."
Smith said the building represents the company's commitment to the area.
"Hopefully from what you see here, you can tell we're in this game for the long haul," he said