The most recent span of harsh winter weather hampered construction last week and again Tuesday to continue work on expanding the Mexican grocery store La Lupita on Broadway Street in downtown Lenoir City, which will be located across the street from the EZ Stop gas station and convenience store, but officials hope the project will still be on schedule to open this spring.
Leon Williams, president and owner of commercial construction firm Leon Williams Contractors, who is constructing the building, said crews were shut down all of last week thanks to the most recent bout of frigid temperatures that brought with it heavy ice and snow throughout East Tennessee. Though crews were dormant, Williams is still pushing for an April opening with about 50 percent of construction already complete.
“They are trying to get the exterior closed in where we will be weather tight,” Williams said. “Right now, we are partially weather tight. We just don’t have the windows and doors and all in. Our next step out is get the windows and doors in to where we can close it in and go from there. The parking lot will be done after we get the exterior walls and all done, so we’ve still got quite a bit of work to do, but with weather cooperating we can hit the outside and inside at the same time.”
Construction on the Lenoir City store began in early October.
“Depending on what the weather does this week, next week and all, we’ll be back online and get caught up,” he added. “We can work in inclement weather, but when it’s ice you don’t do that. ... And it’s affected our delivery, products coming in from out of state, so it’s going to be a mad dash to finish.
“I’ve never been shut down for a week, never,” Williams said.
Maria Cornejo, co-owner of the store and a Lenoir City resident, said she hopes to move store operations from the current location on A Street shortly after construction is complete, and the new store location will grow the family business and pump dollars into the local economy.
“We do want to construct another building hopefully in a few years from now. We’ve got to get this one done first,” Cornejo said, pointing to Oak Ridge or Knoxville as a potential future location.
Lenoir City Assistant City Administrator Amber Scott agreed with Cornejo’s sentiments, adding that the Broadway Street environment offers a lot potential for foot traffic as compared to the bustling U.S. Highway 321 corridor.
“I think it will do a lot for our economy as far as sale tax dollars. There is obviously demand for a cultural restaurant and store and even a laundry mat. I believe the only one is on Kingston Street,” Scott said. “I think this restaurant and grocery store will get a lot of foot traffic. I totally understand why they would want to be located on Broadway. I think it will pump tax dollars into our local economy.”
With plans underway to revitalize downtown through the roadway project “Streetscapes,” which includes aesthetic improvements to downtown with improved lighting, landscaping, pavement markings, underground utilities and widened on-street parking and renovations to the historic Waller Building downtown, Scott said she believes Lenoir City is well poised for new life in the downtown district, especially with the addition of La Lupita.
“Other developers I think it might get them interested about investing in downtown. If this succeeds, and I believe it will, it might get other investors interested in having other businesses pop up downtown whether it’s restaurants or retail spaces,” Scott said.
The 7,200-square-foot building will include a restaurant, grocery store and laundry mat. The Maryville-based developer helped build other La Lupita stores also in Loudon and Maryville.
Loudon’s location, constructed in 2010 on U.S. Highway 11 near Highway 72, is 10,000 square feet and has a restaurant and store, a laundry mat and a hair and nail salon. Maryville’s location is about 5,000 square feet and only includes a restaurant and store.
Expanding the store has been years in the making. According to an earlier report from Loudon County Property Assessor’s office, co-owner Manuel Cornejo purchased five parcels off West Broadway Street for $234,500 in December 2010. Williams said he expects the project to total about $1.5 million.
The current Lenoir City location on A Street, with only 3,000 square feet, holds enough space for store merchandise, a fresh meats counter and restaurant. It wouldn’t be the first time, however, that La Lupita was located on Broadway. Maria Cornejo said the family business, which opened first with only the Lenoir City location in the early 2000s, was once located near the current Roane State Community College campus in Lenoir City, but when the downtown block burned the store moved to A Street.
“We are excited to be there, but we know it’s high quality, and it takes time,” Maria Cornejo said, adding that with the expansion the store will add “a few more” employees. “We’re back on Broadway.”