Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Upheaval in local grocery options

It looks like with Whole Foods coming to town, there is an upheaval underway already with the local grocery scene. Consider the number of local organic grocers within 1 mile of where Whole Foods ended up breaking ground. It looks like some of them may want to move downtown after all (especially after Crescent Market has been adamantly opposed to moving downtown for years until suddenly). And so now what we're seeing is downtown finally appearing as a viable retail alternative to the Chesapeake long as your niche is going to be cannibalized by Whole Foods. And to be clear, this isn't saying Crescent Market, Forward Foods, or any other gourmet and organic grocers to name a few couldn't compete with Whole Foods which is often actually a benefit to the local gourmet and organic grocery options. Local options typically compete quite well against Whole Foods and Whole Foods brings more attention to the whole idea of gourmet and organic grocery shopping in cities it goes to. My belief is that Whole Foods may have gotten an agreement with Chesapeake that they'll raise the rent on Crescent Market and encourage them to leave the area, which is exactly what they're doing.

Crescent Market appears to be looking at areas with good access to Mesta Park and Heritage Hills, wanting to stay true to its base demographic. This means looking around Walker and around Broadway. Automobile Alley appears to be getting serious consideration, but the problem with A-Alley I see is that the current Crescent Market is well over 20,000 sf. Even if they utilize a more efficient floorplan I still don't see them downsizing their operations, meaning they'll need at least 10,000 sf on a ground floor in a well-renovated building, which may be hard to come by. Two other gourmet grocers that I won't name are also looking at downtown very seriously, and I understand there is a very strong possibility that the LEVEL Urban Apartments at 2nd/Walnut will sign a lease with an existing locally-known grocer that might not necessarily relocate a store but open a new one. Or it might relocate the store.

Is it possible that Chesapeake-area retailers moving downtown could stem the tide of movement further north? For the last 2-3 years it seems like the only option for retailers leaving 50 Penn Place or others coming to town was to go into the Classen Curve development, whereas they all could have very easily and successfully gone downtown. Full Circle, looking right at's time to move downtown and get out of your building. Can anyone else imagine Crescent Market, other grocers, Full Circle, Hideaway, Shop Good, Rawhide, and others all in the same neighborhood? That would go many miles toward establishing the critical mass needed in terms of downtown retail to turn the tide and get the ball rolling.

On a sadder note, it appears that this Friday is the last day for Market C on NW 23rd. A great Uptown 23rd tenant for a long time, that added a lot to the really interesting and diverse mix that has blossomed there, it is a shame that it is going away. It will be replaced with more space for Cheever's catering.

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