Tuesday's announcement by Lobeco-based Lowcountry Produce that it will open a grocery store in the former Beaufort City Hall on Carteret Street is good news for several reasons.
First, it indicates a local company is healthy enough to expand.
Second, the company's arrival could portend new life for a downtown district.
Indeed, Lowcountry Produce's arrival should rejuvenate the area, but whether it will transform it remains to be seen.
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Municipal planners, new urbanists and advocates of "green" lifestyles tout the benefits of "walkable communities," the appeal of which is as strong as it is obvious -- our environmental impact is minimized and our opportunities to engage with each other are enhanced in ways not always possible in the suburbs.
But for true walkability, residents must be able to use their feet to fill their bellies. A grocery store could boost the city's effort to transform the downtown district and adjacent neighborhoods into places people can live, work and play without getting into an automobile.
Still, the Lowcountry Produce business plan sounds more like the sort of high-end boutique shopping that largely characterizes downtown Beaufort already.
"It will be a true specialty grocery," said co-owner Noel Garrett.
"The market has been screaming for it," Mayor Billy Keyserling said, ostensibly referring to demand for a grocery store the area hasn't had since Piggly Wiggly left Port Republic Street about two decades ago.
But Keyserling acknowledges Lowcountry Produce's operation is no chain supermarket.
If the location on Carteret Street thrives as a community's corner market, that will be great for downtown and a positive sign for planners' vision.
But it also would seem to be a departure from the formula that has brought the company success. It has been selling its goods over the Internet and in a storefront in rural Lobeco.
So if you care to divine the area's future through a new grocery store, pay attention to what leaves its shelves. Will it be gourmet fare purchased by tourists, residents and those who live beyond walking distance? Or will it be staple items consumed by those arriving on foot or by bike?
Pay attention as well to the store's financial arrangement with the city. Lowcountry Produce will lease the building for about $44,000 in the first year, with rent increasing incrementally each year. It has the option to purchase the property within three years for $660,000, the building's appraised value as of June 8. If it exercises that option, it will be more good news for the city and the company.
And it will matter little if that success arrives by car or by foot.