Officials estimated 200 to 300 people filled the parking lot at Laney Supermarket, 843 Laney-Walker Blvd., after word spread that the Richmond County Marshal’s Office was enforcing an eviction at the business.
Officials said onlookers became angry when they learned they would not be allowed to take away food and other sundries that were piled outside the grocery as “abandoned property.”
The crowd dissipated after a swarm of deputies arrived, along with Sheriff Richard Roundtree, to assist the three marshals who had been initially assigned to the eviction.
“There is the potential to have people fighting and causing problems,” Lt. Calvin Chew said. “That’s not something we want.”
There were no arrests in the resulting confusion, but groups of people remained to watch the proceedings, many clutching empty bags and grumbling.
Tiffany Serles said she heard about the eviction from her aunt who lives nearby.
“She said they evicting Gurley’s,” Serles said, referring to the former name of the neighborhood market. “So, I came down here to get some of the stuff.”
Serles was watching with several friends while workers scooped up the food and other merchandise in trash cans which were in turn dumped into two garbage bins that officials said were destined for the Richmond County landfill.
“It’s a shame that they are just throwing all this stuff away and not even donating it to a shelter or anything,” she said.
Her friend, Victoria Williams, said she heard about the eviction on Facebook, as did many others. Word spread fast, and soon the parking lot was packed with people and cars waiting for a chance to take away the spoils.
“There are people with babies who need diapers out here,” she said.
Teresa Russell, a chief deputy with the marshal’s office, said the landlord, SunTrust Bank, was paying to have the displaced merchandise hauled away.
She said the tenant, Il Ki Choi, of Sun and Food LLC, could have avoided the commotion if he had moved out when notified by the court.
“They’ve known about this since Feb. 13,” Russell said. “They could have moved out anytime before today.”
SunTrust notified the tenant Jan. 1 that he had 30 days to vacate the property because the lease would not be renewed, according to court records.
A court-ordered eviction notice was served Feb. 13. Russell said the tenant failed to file an answer, so a judge signed the final order Feb. 27. SunTrust delayed scheduling the eviction until Tuesday.
According to Russell, a final notice was posted on the grocery’s door Friday. The tenant removed some goods from the store Tuesday morning before leaving, she said.
When reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Choi said he was busy and could not answer questions.
Johanne Vargas, an agent for property manager FirstService Residential Realty, based in Sandy Springs, Ga., said she was unable to discuss the matter when asked why the groceries were not donated.
Joseph Young, who helps run a youth mentoring program in the same shopping center as the supermarket, watched marshals stand guard as food was tossed into the trash.
“We could have gotten some of this stuff and done something special for the kids this weekend,” Young said.