- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

MARRERO, La. (AP) - Sterling Farms’ flagship grocery store, which opened a year ago amid national attention for its mission of bringing healthy food to underserved communities, closes its doors Thursday.

The Marrero store drew national attention when it opened. Michelle Obama visited while the Obama administration touted its Fresh Food Initiative to bring healthy grocery options to so-called “food deserts.”

The New Orleans Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/1mvS9nq) owners Troy Henry and actor Wendell Pierce said they have plans to open two new stores - in Alexandria and Atlanta - despite the Marrero closing. Pierce said the two locations represent the chain’s two strongest potential markets.

No lease agreements have been signed and there’s no set timetable for them to open.

Henry and Pierce said they view the Marrero store’s failure as a learning experience that will help their company going forward.

“All of our grocery store resources will go to our two best markets,” Pierce said.

Pierce said the Marrero store, a former Winn-Dixie store, was simply in a bad location, though he doesn’t think the store was harmed by nearby competitors, including a Wal-Mart.

He said the viability of a grocery store can come down to elements like visibility or a tricky intersection. Budget Saver, the chain that Sterling brought in a month ago to manage the Marrero store, decided against trying to make a go of it there as well, he said.

“It’s all a part of growing the business. We learned a lot, and we loved being in Marrero and look forward to doing something else there,” he said, adding that Avondale might prove to be a good West Bank location.

Pierce, a New Orleans-born actor known for his roles in the television series “The Wire” and “Treme,” said Friday that Sterling still plans to put full-service grocery stores in the New Orleans market, with New Orleans East and the 9th Ward the most likely candidates.

Sterling still has three Sterling Express gas stations and convenience stores in the New Orleans area.

Pierce said more than 60 municipalities have contacted Sterling since the Marrero store opened and that future locations will have a different business model, with public entities providing the location and Sterling operating a store on it.

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Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, http://www.neworleansadvocate.com