GRAND RAPIDS –– Meijer Inc.’s 39,000-square-foot Bridge Street Market being built west of downtown will serve as a “proof of concept” for the company’s planned expansion of smaller format urban grocery stores.
Mike Kinstle, vice president of real estate for the Walker-based supercenter retailer, said the company plans to break ground on a proposed urban-format store along Jefferson Avenue east of downtown Detroit next summer with three or four more stores planned in undisclosed locations within the company’s six-state footprint in the years to follow.
Kinstle spoke as part of a panel discussion on Tuesday in downtown Grand Rapids at a conference hosted by the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade association for commercial real estate firms involved in the retail sector. The Meijer executive acknowledged that Bridge Street Market and other smaller footprint stores diverge from the retailer’s typical big-box format. However, Meijer is confident in the relatively new store concept, he said.
With Bridge Street Market being part of a mixed-use development that includes apartments, offices and other commercial space, the retailer had to take a leap of faith in a number of areas. That’s particularly true for the store’s dedicated parking, which will largely be in a ramp serving the overall development, a far cry from the retailer’s typical large surface parking lots.
“We don’t have any experience with a store like this in this kind of environment, so we did have to kind of pull a number out of the air and go on faith that this was going to work,” Kinstle said.
The structure will have 100 spaces for the exclusive use of customers, who will get one hour of free parking, he said.
Slated to open sometime this summer, the Bridge Street Market will do little to let consumers know it’s a Meijer-owned store, Kinstle said. The urban format stores will offer little to no signage showing their affiliation with Meijer, aside from some in-house brands.
Bridge Street Market and its other planned affiliate stores will put a high emphasis on fresh produce, and garage doors will allow for the goods to be sold on the street during the warmer months, Kinstle said.
Meijer has experimented in the past with smaller formats and an emphasis on fresh products and alternative branding. The company quietly formed the Fresh Thyme Farmers Market chain as a skunkworks-type operation in 2012 — a connection MiBiz detailed in an exclusive report.
At the Bridge Street Market groundbreaking, Meijer CEO Rick Keyes — in an interview with MiBiz — discussed the different roles that the two brands play in the company’s overall portfolio.
“I think Fresh Thyme has a unique place in our formats,” Keyes said last June. “(Bridge Street Market) is unique and really focused on the market we’re in. It’s very localized so we’re focused on bringing to life the west side and bringing a full grocery shop together. We see it as different and something that will add to this community.”
Kinstle seconded that message on Tuesday at the ICSC conference, saying that Bridge Street Market, the planned Detroit store and other stores that follow will seek to play heavily in their individual markets, with expectations for store managers to source from local vendors.
Moreover, each of the new stores will offer space for a local coffee shop vendor. The Bridge Street Market store, for example, is planning to offer space for a satellite location of Mayan Buzz Cafe, a Grand Rapids coffee shop that currently has a store on Grandville Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids.
Later this year, Meijer plans to open its newest West Michigan supercenter store in Georgetown Township, near Hudsonville. As such, Kinstle says the company is in no way retreating from its roots as the inventor of the supercenter store format.
Rather, Kinstle said the increased focus on smaller format, urban stores –– which he believes have potential to work in smaller communities when given the right circumstances –– comes as an acknowledgement that potential supercenter sites are in dwindling supply.
New supercenter stores that span 150,000 square feet require at least 15 acres of land to get built, Kinstle said. Those parcels are becoming increasingly harder to find, particularly with the population shift back to urban areas.
Given that changing landscape, Kinstle told reporters following the panel discussion that the branding of the planned urban stores and the types of products they’ll sell will create a vastly different shopping experience than what patrons of Meijer’s superstores have been accustomed to in the past.
“It’ll be totally different than anything they’ve seen associated with Meijer,” he said.