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A highway expansion created a food desert. Sanger leadership hopes the new highway will also fix it.

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SANGER — For Holly Bourquin’s family, the demolition of Sanger’s only grocery store meant more than the loss of a convenient place to shop. Her husband’s grandfather originally owned the store, then named Burrus, which opened in 1979.

“My father-in-law worked for his father at the store after high school and met my mother-in-law at the store,” Bourquin said. “If it weren’t for Burrus grocery store, my in-laws would probably never have met and my husband or children wouldn’t exist either.”

Bourquin’s father-in-law watched the demolition of the Super Save building he’d once worked in earlier this summer. The grocery store was one of a combined 150-plus property acquisitions by the Texas Department of Transportation for two adjacent highway expansion projects expected to begin construction as early as summer 2022.

The first project will widen FM455 from west of FM2450 to east of Marion Road in Sanger, making the two-lane roadway into four lanes with a center left-hand turn lane. The second project will reconstruct 4,500 feet of the Interstate 35 interchange over FM455 as part of a breakout project.

“Most people won’t notice the difference between the two projects — they’re letting [for construction] at the same time, and they’ll be under construction at the same time for both FM455 projects,” TxDOT spokesperson Emily McCann said.

Acquisitions were completed in 2019. The Super Save was one of several properties on Stemmons Street (the I-35 frontage road) that were in the path of both intersecting projects. Snap Shop, The Donut Shop, Shell Convenience Store, Oriental Express and Howard Mortuary either closed or moved outside city limits, while others such as Sonic moved to a new location in Sanger. Several residential properties along Third Street and Chapman Drive also were demolished for the project, and auto repair shop Car Care Center also closed in 2019.

With the closure of Super Save in April, Sanger residents are driving to Denton for most of their groceries. Though 156 Produce and K’s Gourmet Foods have helped fill the gap for produce and baked goods, many say not having access to a full grocery store remains a hardship.

“With the gas prices being so high, it’s one of the biggest things on my mind,” resident Jo Haigwood Johnson said.

The city of Sanger released a statement in April addressing resident concerns about the closures.

“City Council and staff are aware of the community’s desire to have more retail businesses in town, especially a new grocery store,” the statement read in part. “We are confident that the continued growth that is occurring in the Sanger area positions our city to be a very desirable location for a new grocery store.”

The city has been reaching out to chains for years in the hopes of attracting a grocer to the area, Sanger Mayor Thomas Muir told the Denton Record-Chronicle in July. Among top factors for grocers when looking at a new market are the number of residents and their discretionary income, Muir said. City officials hope the closure of Super Save will make the area more attractive for retailers.

“It creates a void, where now with that extra available market and some of the growth we’ve seen in Sanger, those two things combined, I think we’re ripe for some action,” Muir said. “We can’t force developers to come, but we’re trying to be friendly and make sure we’re doing all we can to facilitate that.”

The projects will address congestion on FM455 and accommodate future growth, according to TxDOT. Sanger leaders hope the projects also will bring new opportunities for the city.

“While we understand it [the construction] will be painful probably for everybody to live through, it solves a longer-term transportation problem for the city and opens up that 455 corridor for redevelopment to the benefit of retail businesses that can serve the residents of Sanger,” Muir said. “We think it’s an opportunity to bring in new retail establishments to serve the residents and upgrade the retail businesses that are in town so the residents have services and businesses they didn’t have beforehand.”

But some say the city cannot afford to wait.

“If we wait for the I-35 project to be completed before establishing basic services [like] grocery, gas, dining, Sanger will be hard-pressed to recover,” resident Janice Joyce-Campbell said.

For current business owners, too, the projects have brought challenges. Sandra Dobbs, owner of The Salon Escape, had to move her business from North Fifth Street to its current location on North Stemmons Street, where she said her rent doubled.

“I love our new location, but it [rent] almost tripled when you count bills because I didn’t have to pay sewer and all those extra fees that I do here,” Dobbs said. “I think we pick up a little bit more business being here on the service road, but it’s a lot of stress when you’re under that kind of pressure [to move].”

Joe and Joann Baker own Texas Auto Towing Service, which they’ve operated out of a leased building on Stemmons Street for nearly six years. They also were told they would have to relocate to make way for the expansions. Although they qualified for TxDOT’s relocation program, there’s no available property in Sanger that works for their business, so they’re moving it to Valley View.

“Because of the way we have to operate because of our contracts, there’s certain things we’re required to have and do, so that makes it a little bit harder to find a commercial property,” Joann Baker said.

The property they did find needs upgrades, which have been about a year in the making. The Bakers have been working with TxDOT and a third-party group as part of the relocation program, but the process has been a slow and at times frustrating one, with each step needing approval.

“You’re being forced to leave the property where your business is at, but at the same time, they want to drag their feet,” Joann Baker said. “It would be nice if you weren’t always having to hunt somebody down to get an answer.”

The Bakers have not been given a deadline to vacate, but with construction slated to start in less than a year, they know it may come any day.

“It’s been a hardship on us and a big stressor,” Joe Baker said. “They want to come in and do this project and say it’s going to be good for the city, good for who? The big chains and corporations that can come in after? What about the mom-and-pop businesses that have built their business here?

“Sanger wouldn’t be what it is without them.”

For other residents, the growing pains feel like necessary ones.

“It should bring good business opportunities and a commercial tax base to help fund the infrastructure growth our city and school district desperately need,” resident John Harvey Reed Jr. said. “But I think a good deal of that growth will be postponed until the road projects are complete or near complete. Timing large construction projects around a potentially fluid TxDOT timeline can be very difficult and costly.”

Despite the hurdles brought on by the projects, Muir said local officials are remaining optimistic. Though Sanger won’t quite be the same city after the projects’ completion, they hope it can, in some ways, be a better one.

“It takes some time to develop, but we do think business comes when you get that type of good, solid infrastructure in place to support those businesses and the flowing of traffic,” Muir said. “We’re living where our residents are living because we’re residents of Sanger, so we would just request patience.”

AMBER GAUDET can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @amb_balam.

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