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Southeast Oak Cliff Community Hungry For A New Store

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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – In Southeast Dallas, hundreds of would be-shoppers lined up at the new Highland Hills Save A Lot grocery store - only to learn that the grand opening had been delayed for day.

"I'm disappointed that it's not today!" exclaimed Patricia Barnes with a laugh. Barnes has lived in the neighborhood near Simpson Stuart and Bonnie View for some 40 years. The dual ravages of poverty and neglect have taken a harsh toll. So the neighborhood is hungry for both positive change and fresh food. The new grocery store promises to provide both.

"I believe it's going to give hope," says store manager Renee' Jones. "They see possibility. They see opportunity." Jones says excitement over the store's opening on Friday is keeping her awake nights.  "We're going to have fresh produce. Fresh dairy. Meat. Well stocked shelves…and an affordable price."

The area has gone without a major grocery store nearby for years - earning it a 'food desert' designation from the USDA. Many who live nearby travel to the suburbs to shop for groceries, buy near their workplaces, or settle for what's available at corner convenience stores that have few healthy options.

"Seeing kids go to school in the morning eating cheese hots…and you're expecting them to get a good education," says store owner Joseph Kemp.  Kemp says the frustration of seeing the lack of fresh food options led him to consider opening the store. The Dallas businessman owns apartments in the area. But, he says the venture isn't philanthropy - he expects the grocery store to be profitable, because the community, he believes, is hungry for change.

"People in this neighborhood - they want better. And that's why I stepped up to the plate," says Kemp. "And that is my goal. To make it better for the people of this neighborhood."

The store is pristine. With well stocked shelves and employees culled from the neighborhood to help instill a sense of ownership. Kemp says the response to the store's 30 job openings suggests that the community is hungry for more than fresh food.

"We had in excess of 800 resumes… for 30 positions to be filled," says Kemp.  "They want to work. We need jobs in southern Dallas."

As part of Mayor Mike Rawlings' Grow South Initiative, Kemp received $2.8 million in incentives to help locate the store in a food desert.  He's also coming to the table with millions of his own financing.  Still, he says the effort took more than money: it took patience, most major grocers weren't interested in locating in the area.

"None. Other than Save a Lot," says Kemp. "And when I started down the road here, there was a perception that no one wanted a Save a Lot. But, when they come through the doors, it's a different perception."

Kemp says customers can expect to be greeted at the door, can expect to shop in a clean store, and will find friendly, helpful service, fresh foods, and meat packaged and prepared on site.

"I'm a stickler for detail…and this will be a successful store. If you look around, I think you would tend to agree that it does look like something that would be in North Dallas, Plano, Frisco: it's a little smaller box. But, it's a nice box."

An official ribbon cutting with community leaders is planned at the store at 11:00 AM Friday.  But, doors will open to shoppers at 8:00 AM.  The first 200 shoppers can expect a bag of freebies.

(©2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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