Gulfport Grocery Shoppers Now Have Another "Choice"

Many call it another sign of progress. On Wednesday, Choice Supermarket in Gulfport re-opened. A tornado spawned by Hurricane Katrina hit the building. Employees have spent the last five months getting the supermarket cleaned up and ready to welcome customers.

"It was exciting," said deli manager Regina Hurlbert. "The first thing we told everybody was welcome home."

Hurlbert considers Choice Supermarket like a second home and her co-workers family.

"Before the storm if something would happen now and then, you would get a little on edge," she said. "Not now. Everybody works together as a team and it all boils down to being a family."

Bill Barrett also calls the reopening of the Gulfport grocery a homecoming celebration. In the last few months he's missed filling his shopping cart here.

He likes "the friendly people. It's a neighborhood store. It's a big store, but it's a little store. It's my kind of store."

The shoppers who eagerly made their way down aisles had a big part in Choice's re-emergence. Owner Charles Ciaccio says a supportive staff and dedicated customers convinced him to not to pack up after Katrina.

"Right after the storm we started getting phone calls from shoppers, neighbors, residents," said Ciaccio. "We realized this is the heart of the community, and we were very committed to coming back."

Customers say having this store back up and running is another reminder of the coast is picking up the pieces.

"Wow," said Bill Barrett. "It's wonderful to be back."

The return of Choice Supermarket was good news for the Hardy Court Shopping Center. The buildings sustained millions of dollars worth of damages. The owners say right now the shopping center is undergoing extensive renovations to the roof and facade. Mitch Salloum says all of the previous tenants plan to return and about half are already open for business. For that, he credits Choice Supermarket.

"It means everything," said Salloum. "It's a big drawing card. Every time you have a shopping center, the supermarket is a big drawing card. I doubt we could have gotten the rest of the tenants without them."

Salloum says he believes Hardy Court's good location and easy accessibility are what attracts stores to the shopping center.