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Grocer reopens after long absence from Flowery Branch

POSTED: February 11, 2009 11:35 p.m.
TOM REED/The Times

The Best Buy Quality Foods store at the corner of Phil Niekro Boulevard and Atlanta Highway in Flowery Branch has reopened after being gutted by a fire in 2007.

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FLOWERY BRANCH — Best Buy Quality Foods is back in business.

The grocery landmark had been closed since July 2007, when it was gutted by fire and a store employee later was charged with arson.

The failing economy, however, has slowed the business in filling its shelves and coolers, said manager Suzy Wadsworth.

"It’s a process dealing with vendors. As the economy got worse, some of our vendors went out of business," she said. "You don’t think about that when you’re rebuilding. You’re more worried about building the structure back.

"... We’re working hard trying to get everything back in, because people want it the way it was."

Wadsworth said she hopes deliveries will enable her and owner Ghulam Ahmed to fill the shelves in the store, which has been open for a week, in another couple of weeks.

The store’s once-popular meat cooler should be stocked within four to six weeks. The business also should restart its gas pumps this week, Wadsworth added.

The 50-year-old store, which sits in a white brick building at Phil Niekro Boulevard and Atlanta Highway, has changed hands several times over the years.

Ahmed bought the store about three years ago from the Atkinson family.

He and Wadsworth said they were happy to have the store running again. So were a few customers who wandered in early Wednesday morning.

"It was awful (when it closed). We have been waiting a long time," said Joan Mooney, who had stopped by with her brother, Roy Head, both lifelong Flowery Branch residents.

The fire caused about $500,000 in damage to the inside of the 4,500-square-foot store, which was valued at $1.4 million, officials said at the time.

Authorities alleged that employee Ansar M. Choudry tried to cover up the theft of several thousand dollars from the grocery store by setting fire to it.

Choudry, 54, pleaded guilty Nov. 4 to second-degree arson. Hall County Superior Court Judge Jason Deal placed him on probation for 10 years as part of an agreement reached with prosecutors, who dropped a first-degree arson charge.

Deal also ordered him to pay $12,000 in restitution to Southern Trust Insurance Co. and perform 40 hours of community service.

The store sat boarded up for months while Ahmed and Wadworth worked to get the business restarted.

Alpharetta-based architect Richard Debban worked on designs for the project.

"It’s been a long time coming," Wadsworth said. "It was a horrible thing that happened, and now (we’re trying) to get everything back up and running because so many people depended on this store."

The store has a new interior, including coolers and bathrooms, but the layout largely is the same. Customer will notice that the check-out areas at the front of the store have been reconfigured.

"Everything is more open. We took out the dropped ceilings so we could open it up a little more," Wadsworth said.

"It was a store that had never really been updated. When you have a fire and things are destroyed, you have to bring it back up to code. We actually improved it a little bit from what it was."


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