Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Case For Urban Grocery's

The New Urban News has an article posted about the rise in downtown urban grocers. Something that is happening mostly in the larger cities and places that understand the meaning of density. Washington DC has ten in the building or planning stage currently. Lexington has at least one in the wishing stage.

Urban-format grocery stores are built mostly in transit-served, walkable neighborhoods — often where new urban development is taking place according to one of architects involved with three of the DC stores. I guess that leaves Lexington out in the cold, as we have a dearth of walkable transit served neighborhoods. The closest that we would come is the Kroger on Romany(it lacks the transit) or the Kroger on Euclid(it needs to be up on the sidewalk and lose some of the parking).

Urban-format stores are also characterized by having the parking being reduced and placed below or above the store — or in the interior of the block. Lexington has nothing remotely like this scenario, nor does there appear to be a chance to have one. Such stores usually have street facing retail flanking either or both sides to give activity and avoid a blank wall to the pedestrians or passing traffic.

At least one entrance to an urban-format store must open to a quality urban environment. and usually there are two. One will face the active street scene and the other will lead to the parking. Suburban style developments will have all entrances leading to parking and be some distance from the street. One again, Lexington seems to be sorely lacking in this type of retail.
Until recently, supermarket chains focused primarily on the suburbs. The business model involved rolling out the same store with parking in front, again and again. When supermarkets did build in cities, they plunked down the same suburban box whenever possible. This approach worked as long as new growth was taking place primarily in the suburbs and the cities languished.

New Urban News
Safeway is one of North America’s largest supermarket chains with more than 1,700 stores is changing their urban strategy. “We are definitely focusing on stores in our urban core and will not be building stores in urban areas that are growth dependent,” says Craig Muckle. Kroger, a much larger chain and currently adding fuel centers and Marketplace big-box locations in Lexington, cannot be oblivious to this emerging situation but they don't show any evidence of jumping on the band wagon. On the other hand, Whole Foods pioneered this movement in the mid 1990s, just as there was the beginnings of a resurgence in downtown living.

Since an urban-format grocery is generally placed in a higher income area and walkable/transit enabled neighborhoods our Lexington residents will need to rearrange their priorities and actually move downtown before the stores will consider building there. The mindset of the shopper at an urban-format store is different, people often shop daily at urban stores instead of weekly, and purchase less food per visit. Less food per visit + a walkable neighborhood = less parking required per store. Also, fresher more wholesome food and less storage space in the kitchen or pantry.

So, our question now is, can our Lexington residents request, demand or encourage:
  • more walkable neighborhoods,
  • more transit-oriented development,
  • more downtown density,
  • less of what has been proven to be unsustainable and
  • progressive design for our city
I guess that we will see.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Any thoughts on whether one-way versus two-way streets makes a significant difference to patronage of urban stores?