HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- When Ukrop's closed a decade ago, many in the Richmond community not only lost their beloved, locally-owned grocery store, they also -- it appears -- lost a piece of their own identities.
That is why Ukrop's fans, friends, and former employees excitedly waited in line to be among the first inside the new Ukrop's Market Hall -- a food hall serving Ukrop's food -- in Henrico's West End.
"I was a Ukrop's employee for about 15 years," Khiem Tran, who conducted a Facebook LIVE while ordering chicken, potato wedges, and green beans, said. "I got a lot of my coworkers here on my Facebook LIVE. We're just excited to see this open and eat some of that fried chicken again."
It is important to note the new Ukrop's is not a grocery store, but more of a food court to order and eat Ukrop's food and specialty items.
While the food was the big draw, Rickie Hopkins noted being able to walk into a Ukrop's again meant a lot to him during these turbulent times.
"I'm glad they're coming back," Hopkins, who arrived nearly an hour before the 11 a.m. opening to be first in line, said. "Especially during this time now with the pandemic. I think it's gonna be a big blessing to many people."
The pandemic, along with the size and scope of the project, pushed the opening date back a tad from the original fall 2020 plan.
"When we started thinking about this, a global pandemic wasn't on our mind. So we've had to make several adjustments throughout the process," Scott Aronson, president of Ukrop's Homestyle Foods, said. "The seating that you'll see is spread much more than it would normally be. We have several chairs and tables that were ordered for the Market Hall that aren't up, they're back in storage. Hopefully, down the road, those will be things that we can use here. But the sanitation, all of the wipes, face masks that everybody's wearing. Yes, it's a unique time that we never expected to be in when we first started down this path."
He said they're using an app to make sure the crowd inside Ukrop's Market Hall, at the corner of Horsepen and Patterson Avenue, remains at a COVID-friendly size.
"We're actually trying to keep everybody safe," Aronson said. "It's exciting. It's encouraging. It's humbling to look out and see people waiting to come in to get some of that fried chicken and other great Ukrop's items that they haven't been able to get for 10 years."
The excitement was echoed by Ukrop's fan Margaret Norman.
"I feel really good today because this is an exciting launch for the Ukrop family," she said. "They're known as a philanthropic family and they do a great job in the community and it's nice to see that their staple foods are coming to a location again, so it's very exciting."
Norman ordered fried chicken for her husband and mac & cheese plus a salad for herself.
"I don't have to cook today," she said with an audible smile obscured by her mask.
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