Hey young and old urbanites, I wish to address an issue that so many of my downtown friends and clients bring up... "We need a quality, full scale grocery store Downtown!"

It has gotten to the point in the last l5 or so years of active redevelopment of the urban core that we have HIT THE WALL with our progress! Buyer's come to me wanting to move downtown and many end up buying elsewhere because of access to a reasonable grocery store. Or, they buy downtown and want to sell a couple years later because of this inconvenience. Or, they just keep bitching about lack of access with no one listening. These are small examples - but overall it just feels like we have hit an invisible wall with progressive development because a combination of targeting the wrong audience (too much high end and not enough affordable) and lack of quality groceries.

My point is that (just get there Cris...) I think we need to start a campaign to get the city council to create an incentive package to lure a progressive, high quality, full service grocer into an accessible location Downtown.

Grocers have, over the past 10 years or so, been approached by a number of politicians and developers trying to coax them into the core. They all wanted a building package and parking spaces not conducive to progressive high density development. They also claimed that downtown doesn't yet have the "demographic" necessary to support their bottom line. This is something that large chain developers always say until they open up and get slammed with new business. (Look, for example, at the new Sunshine Market on Lomas and ... is it Washington? San Mateo? up there...) Then they scream and yell about how great THEY are because their new store is "beating all expectations"

SO, I have come to believe that we are not going to get through this development gauntlet without a strong and targeted subsidized incentive package to bring a full service grocer downtown. This is more important than a new convention Center, an Events Center, a Sports Stadium, (or any other exceedingly grand vision promoted by our current Mayor... except, perhaps, the Rail Yards project which I support)

Anyway, I am at this point not prepared to launch a campaign on this issue myself... I would like to plant the seed for public support in this direction. I think many of you who live downtown might agree.

Views: 38

Tags: Downtown, development, grocery, growth, housing, local, planned, redevelopment, shop, store, More…strategy, values

Comment by Kemper Barkhurst on March 30, 2009 at 11:17pm
Maybe a large chain isn't what is needed. How would you feel about a smaller Co-op sized grocer? What about a delivery service? Is the Lowe's on Lomas too far away, too small, or not the right quality? What about the Co-op at Nob Hill? I live in the far north valley and I think I have a further distance to travel to a store than the distance from downtown to Nob Hill. I blame the poor community planning that is obviously revolved around the automobile. I feel your frustration about living in a dense urban area without the walking convenience that one would expect.

I'm interested in starting a grocery delivery service through a membership. I plan to concentrate on local, organic foods and natural products. The real estate costs are simply too high for me to start this any other way. Interested in signing up? I know this takes out the activity of getting out and immersing in your neighborhood but maybe it can grow into better things.
Comment by Crista on March 30, 2009 at 11:58pm
Hmm, I feel your ideas. And I too live in the far North Valley area (Alameda and need to drive a long way for groceries) but ... I do a lot of business and am politically/socially interested in dwontown redevelopment for various reasons. I don't belive there is an alternative to a full service, higher quality grocer downtown. Its a must-have. It's essential to the success of Downtwon as a true functioning urban center.

However, you might be interested in speaking with progressive developer/Realtor Travis Thom (see: Venture Realty) about a project he want to work on -> creating a permanent, physical location for a Farmers Market downtown.
Comment by Kemper Barkhurst on March 31, 2009 at 12:18am
Yeah I know Travis. I'll have to stop and have a chat now I know he's interested. I submitted a response to the redevelopment of the Fairgrounds to include a year-round farmer's market. That can be checked out here and is something John O'Connell at the City has been supporting for a long time now.

http://terraharvest.org/

Actually, the legislature just approved the "idea" for Expo NM. There's a link to that here:

http://www.dukecityfix.com/group/urbanfarmers/forum/topics/anyone-good-at-explaining
Comment by Crista on March 31, 2009 at 1:40am
good info, thanks! You should post more of this kind of info to your urban agg group!
Comment by Gene on March 31, 2009 at 10:25am
I suppose I'd feel better about this idea of approaching council with some sort of incentive program for green grocers if there was a bit more detail on the 'ask.' As it stands, approaching council on this is confusing in its approach. Why them?

We do not have an at large council system here, and with that, top expect the other members who do not represent Ike Benton's to have a hand in picking winners and losers for some vague break/incentive not-located--in-their-districts, is political suicide at the least.

That nagging reality aside, the reasons why there is not a full, bang on market downtown has been well documented for years. It's no small irony you mention them as well. The simple fact is, they are right. There simply is not enough population in the true downtown corridor for such an enterprise. East of downtown? Possible. West of downtown? Still possible, but less so. How? The classic urban shop footprint; small specialty shops in small, affordable spaces. All in a walkable area where one goes shop by shop...and can then walk home. I have been traveling a bit lately and its been depressing to see and experience some sterling examples of this.

Now, does that fit downtown? No one seems to be able to make a case for it, so we devolve into the idea of the Sunshine market type premise. Look, Trader Joe's sniffed it out down here fully before they made their decision, and everyone had a fit. But from a business POV, did they make the wrong decision?

The problem is the premise of a 'full service grocer' and all that it implies (parking, etc.) located downtown is apples and oranges. Your example is not right for downtown. it just isn't. We have all the evidence we need it isn't going to work, but we salivate and pine for it endlessly. Why? We should concentrate our efforts on what IS doable.

Rob Dickson, a mayoral candidate moment is beckoning here. Would you kindly express here what that advocate for urban retail development proposed during your charrette lo those years ago as the formula a small to medium sized green grocer considers in a 'hood before opening a shop? Yes, there is a formula for these things. It was a sobering reality check, BUT, much, much ABQ opportunity lurked.

BTW, I live in east downtown, and was at Lowe's yesterday with friends. Standing in the produce department there is just plain depressing.
Comment by Tricross on March 31, 2009 at 10:57am
I always thought a Trader Joe's would be perfect for downtown.
Comment by misterhinkydink on March 31, 2009 at 2:30pm
Tricross, yes, a TJ's would be perfect. Downtown San Jose, CA has been struggling with the downtown grocery problem for years.
Comment by Kemper Barkhurst on March 31, 2009 at 2:53pm
What is the name of the old grocery store that was on the Northwest corner of Broadway and Coal? When did that go out of business? Also, wasn't the building on 3rd and Central designed to be a grocery store? I remember the signs that mentioned this when it was being remodeled.
Comment by Brendan on March 31, 2009 at 5:38pm
MS: Is there a second John Brooks on San Mateo? I think the one near Zuni is rather below average for supermarkets in the city.
Comment by Crista on March 31, 2009 at 6:22pm
It's nice to see the active discussion. Thanks folks. I would like people to consider that, in proposing that the only way to get a grocer into Downtown is with a strong incentive program, I am already acknowledging that mid range and larger grocers will not be profitable for a number of more years in this area, or at least the belief that they will not be profitable will continue to keep them out of the market... So beleaguering the forecasted lack of profitability in a traditional calculation is not relevant from a visioning standpoint - not in terms of what I was addressing anyway. As a rule, when actively visioning for the future, falling back into traditional profitability models as a reason why something CAN’T be done is not going to serve the future. (It's not even serving the present at the moment - see how fast Wall Street has fallen apart?)

Anyway, I’ve heard it about the failure of these models to bring a good prospect to the table and that is why such a grocer would need to be subsidized. Because it MUST be subsidized in order for the population to grow enough to support it. Or at least it must be subsidized in order to convince the bean counters that it will survive until population growth makes it possible to be profitable. It’s the chicken or the egg conundrum. So I’m thinking we need something extraordinary to get past that. Maybe it’s not a full service grocer – maybe it’s a full time farmers market with a deli and a limited selection of upscale items and a coffee bar… or something. But, I think it should be a full service grocer.

Regarding west downtown - we do have a great new grocer over the river now, the Ranch Market
Regarding Smiths on Yale and both Lowes, they are quant in a NM culture kind of way, and I think the one on S. Broadway is appropriate to the culture of S. Broadway - I even enjoy it for it's atmosphere..., but the one on Lomas is a DUMP and potentially unsanitary and I believe that this part of Downtown CAN support a better grocer at that location! And, a decent grocer Downtown would hurt the poor excuse for a Smiths at Lead and Yale, perhaps enough to force them into an upgrade. I would not be sorry about that.

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