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Sunday, 07 February 2016 22:38

REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: Downtown grocery stores beginning to materialize

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With nearly 2,000 new apartment units in the development pipeline for downtown Grand Rapids, many in the community have started to wonder when a full-service grocery store will open in the city core.

Based on recent conversations with multiple sources in the area’s commercial real estate sector, it’s clear that developers and existing business owners seem to be exploring those options.

Sources say at least three different sites in the core downtown area — including one that’s yet to start construction — potentially could be home to some sort of grocery store.

[RELATED: Diamond Place to increase retail, housing options along GR’s Michigan Street corridor]

While many developers remain mum on their plans, John Wheeler of Orion Construction Inc. did confirm that the company is designing its proposed two-tower development at the corner Lyon Street and Ottawa Avenue with a 10,000- to 15,000-square-foot grocery store in mind.

“It’s an urban concept,” said Wheeler, acknowledging “it’s too early to talk about” details of the plans. “To be honest with you, I’ve been working on it for over eight years. … But there’s enough housing now where I think it would be successful.”

That project — to be anchored by law firm Warner Norcross & Judd LLP — is still in early planning phases and isn’t expected to be completed until 2019.

It’s unclear whether these potential stores would be full-service grocery stores, pharmacies such as a CVS or Walgreens or just a form of party store — or even some combination of the three.

However, running retail outlets in a downtown central business district is clearly a tricky business — and it’s even harder for grocery stores selling all the necessary staples.

Higher rents and smaller store footprints in the downtown area tend to lead stores to charge higher prices, but some large chains and independent stores continue to test out the model.

In late January, Crain’s Detroit Business reported that Walker-based Meijer Inc. was in talks with Detroit developers about building a smaller, urban format store in the city’s new hockey arena district.

A spokesperson for Meijer did not return a request for comment about whether the chain might consider a store like that in Grand Rapids.

As MiBiz reported last year, a Meijer executive said that while the chain credited with inventing the superstore concept has considered smaller, urban stores, “we’re not there yet.”

It remains to be seen whether 2,000 new residences will be enough to convince a retailer like Meijer to pull the trigger on building a downtown store, but it would seem that the city surely is getting closer to attracting the grocery option so many desire.

Read 8196 times Last modified on Monday, 08 February 2016 13:52
Nick Manes

Staff writer

nmanes@mibiz.com

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