Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"Let's go shopping!"

The late, lamented George's Market, no longer open any day. Image found at Delano Bungalow.

Karen of Delano Bungalow, inspired by my earlier post, has up a thorough post addressing the near absence of a true grocery store in the Delano. Karen and her famuily have lived here since 1995, so she speaks out of a knowledge of the area that I don't have. She rightly identifies me as "kind of an auxiliary Delano/Riverside resident," but for the record I'll add that I do most of my non-food shopping in the Delano, and a store there would be my closest option. She also notes that the market named in the article I linked to is too hoity-toity for the Delano, and I agree: My larger point was simply that a community's viability is invaluably served by a full-service grocery store (or three, in the case of smaller, corner grocery stores). Indeed, back in the summer when I first posted on this subject, I wrote specifically that what I did not have in mind was some sort of frou-frou gourmet-food kind of place but a true neighborhood store. Indeed, Karen's description of the Delano's demographics makes all the clearer just why it needs such places:
Delano is chock-full of seniors who've lived here since just after WWII, and many of them don't drive, or at least don't drive far (or fast, or well). As those folks move into apartments, nursing homes, or die, the houses are rented or bought by couples or families looking for inexpensive housing. Some are just starting out (that was us…in 1995), others just can't afford anything better, and often have one car or none. Even those who have cars won't regularly shop at a high-end market; that includes me.

Delano needs something a little more…working-class. But not too working-class, or no one will go there if they can afford to avoid it, and it'll become welfare-class. (Confession: towards its end, I did my real shopping at a Dillons even farther from me than Central and West, because the Douglas Street one was getting downright skanky.)

Here's where we go all blue-sky, because I know doodly-squat about the supermarket business, other than that it's obviously tough to compete in if you don't have the purchasing leverage of a big chain. None of the big chains (in the area, anyway) seem quite suited to experimenting in Delano. But we've already got some of the pieces for a non-super market, in or close to Delano.
Go read the whole thing, as they say.

To connect this subject to cycling and its part in neighborhoods who give thought to complete-street planning: stores whose true intent is to serve most of the grocery needs of neighborhoods would not need lots of parking--just a few spaces as part of the lot provided for trucks making deliveries. As traditionally conceived, people who use these stores would visit them 3-4 times a week (the now-familiar once-a-week grocery trip is an outgrowth of post-WWII suburbia/car culture). Most of the customers for these stores would walk there or, in my case, ride their bikes there (so don't forget to provide some bike racks). Some might take the bus, so a location near a bus stop would be important. Anyway, what with all those people making all those trips, people will get to know each other, get to talking. Assuming they like each other, the neighborhood becomes more than a collection of houses--it begins to cohere, acquire a sense of place that is informed as much by the people who live there as by aesthetics.

Like Karen, I don't know doodlely about the grocery store business, apart from the fact that it's extremely competitive due to low profit margins. Back when I worked at a grocery store in Texas, the store said it made one penny of profit for every dollar of groceries sold. Given that that was before Wal-Mart came along with its ability to set the prices it pays to its suppliers (rather than the other way around), that profit margin has probably not improved. So, there's considerable risk for someone who tries to open a grocery store anywhere these days, much less in a place like the Delano. But it would not have to be all things to all people, just a neighborhood thing for the neighborhood's people.

Anyway, thanks for posting on this, Karen. The first step is to admit there is a problem.


Karen in Wichita said...

I was meaning something more like "Greater Delano Area" when I referred to "auxiliary Delano"... that is, people outside the historic district boundaries who are still tied to Delano.

And I've been doing web research the last couple days. I knew downtown groceries (or the lack thereof) were an issue. I had no idea how *much* of an issue they are.

Pat said...

I mention some neighborhood groceries in my book on Delano--Sundberg Food Market (in the 1950s) at 2nd and Meridian and a small grocery at 244 N. Millwood. There was in addition Minson Grocery, 423 Maple, and Moses Food Market 1902 W. Douglas, as late as 1964.

Pat O'Connor

Judy Jones said...

This has been dormant for a couple of years, but I was googling Minson's Grocery on the off-chance of finding something and it brought me here. My grandparents lived at 421 Maple when I was growing up, so it was a rare day that I didn't find myself at Minson's picking up something. I do miss those tiny mom-and-pop stores!