Friday, January 9, 2009

The need for a grocery store in the Delano

Imagine a couple of places like this in the Delano District. What more timeless place of business than the corner grocery? Image found here.

I don't know if anyone in the Delano District reads this blog, much less cares what I might have to say about its neighborhood revitalization plan, but here goes (again).

I have said at various times that Delano would immensely benefit from having a true grocery store and that such a business would seem to be central to achieving its vision of itself. Here, in full, is their plan's statement regarding "Neighborhood Character," with a crucial passage italicized:
The Delano Neighborhood has a wealth of resources, as identified in the SWOT analysis. In this case, character and identity are easy to create by revealing the heritage and history of the area. Preserving the character of homes and removing false facades from commercial structures to expose the original historical architecture not only celebrates the area’s architectural heritage but establishes the neighborhood as "timeless". Many of the most pleasant tourist destinations in the world are those that have timeless qualities - old Paris, Rome, colonial Bermuda... or closer to home- historic Charleston, Austin, New Orleans, or San Francisco. They also contain the most sought after real-estate.

Delano is a unique area of the City, and has the resources to establish itself as a high quality, people oriented, multi-faceted urban community. Ultimately, the average daily needs for a resident will be found within walking distance, thus fostering a greater sense of community through pedestrian interaction. The challenge is preserving that character once it is uncovered. This plan identifies the specific objectives that will ultimately preserve and enhance the character and quality of the neighborhood.
All this is well and good--really--but: The last time I checked, eating was an "average daily need" for people; and while the plan goes on to mention that a goal is to attract businesses to the area that will enhance its neighborhood character, the sorts of businesses specifically mentioned are places like restaurants, specialty shops, office space, "light industry," and single- and multi-family housing (though, it seems clear from the plan's language, multi-family housing is something they are wary of). Not one word about attracting a full-service grocery store. But here is the list of businesses described as "Grocery Stores" that serve Delano. No knock against Quik Trip, but a neighborhood that wants to compare itself to places like New Orleans, Austin and Charleston wants its people's grocery needs served by gas stations? Really?

I want to see the Delano District succeed in achieving its vision of itself. But it strikes me that that vision, at its most specific, really addresses only literal and figurative cosmetic issues. The most basic of a community's needs--the need for close access to a variety of good-quality, reasonably-priced food for daily living--seems to be not at all a consideration. The result, as I put it elsewhere, is that Delano, as well as places like it in other cities seeking to encourage people to live downtown but don't seem to seek out grocery stores as tenants, is "something like a bedroom community turned inside-out: now, people have to leave the neighborhood not to work but to buy food to prepare and eat."

(I would just note in passing that in New Orleans both the French Quarter and the Garden District have several corner grocery stores.)

Via my bloggy friend Ariel in Kansas City comes this announcement about his new neighborhood, in which he is raising a family and establishing a church in KC's arts district:
On Tuesday [January 6?] at 8 a.m. a grocery store will open its doors to the public. Cosentino’s Market Downtown will be located at 13th and Main, within view of the Sprint Center and Power and Light District. The new 33,000-square-foot store will all the typical shopping cart staples like meat, seafood, produce, bakery, liquor and floral departments… The store hopes to meet the needs of people who live, work and entertain downtown. A seating area designed for more than 100 people is equipped with tables and WiFi for lunch or dinner breaks.
Ariel goes on to wonder if the 120 or so parking spaces will be sufficient for customers, but I'd simply reply that such a store, given its stated hopes, probably anticipates that people will visit a couple of times a week rather than the once-a-week visits people tend to make to suburban stores.

Now, I wouldn't necessarily argue that a 30,000 square-foot store would be in keeping with the Delano's self-image, but surely a couple or three stores that collectively approach that square footage would be--especially if the Delano's Powers That Be are serious about meeting its residents' "average daily needs." And as for fostering a sense of community, I cannot put it any more succinctly than this, from the president and chair of the company that landed the grocery store:
"There is no greater catalyst to creating a livable downtown than a great supermarket, and in Cosentino's Downtown Market we have found the ideal tenant."


Nick said...
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Nick said...

Amen, John. Not only is it a shame Delano has no grocery story, it's sort of amazing. We live near Friends. Since Dillons closed the store at Douglas and Meridian ("Dinky Dillons," we liked to call it) the nearest real grocery store is THREE MILES away. Is there another area of city with that problem? Braum's little market is getting a lot of new business, but this really is a nice opening for someone to open a real grocery, even just a modest corner store, as you describe.

John B. said...

Thanks for visiting and for the kind comment. Given what Delano wants for itself, a modest grocery store or two would be a natural fit; the business the Braum store is getting is evidence of that, I'd think.

I see from your profile that you at least at one time worked at the Eagle. Any chance you have some pull over there on getting some press for issues like this?

Nick said...

I do work at The Eagle. When Dillons closed the stores at Douglas and Meridian and at 13th and Waco, we did a pretty substantial story talking about the gaps that left in grocery service in the core. Having some power over the Eagle's Web site ;), I'll resurrect that story and post a link here. I'm sure we'd do another story if we sensed there was real movement in the neighborhood to do something about the problem. That's about where my involvement will need to end though. (Objectivity and all.)

Nick said...

John B. said...

Thanks for the link. Maybe we can get a few area eyeballs over here and elsewhere and the Right People will notice.

Raven said...

Hi, John... Carl from Delano Bungalow (and others) here.

Nick, we called it the "little Dillon's". I lived across the street from it over ten years ago, and it was pretty handy being able to walk there. I now live off 2nd, about eight blocks west of Seneca.

I completely agree that a local grocery could really help Delano become a better community. I drive by "George's Market" on 2nd, just down the street from my house, and wonder what life was like when it was still open.

I think the biggest obstacle is profit, though... much of Delano is made up of poor neighborhoods. On one hand, many lack transportation and a walking-distance grocery would be a good thing. But on the other hand, a local grocery would still have to be reasonably competitive with big-box stores, and I wonder if they can be. (Not match the price or selection of Dillon's, but at least be close enough that it's a reasonable choice.)

There's a reason George's Market closed. But that's a trend I hope to see reversed... more local business and less outsourcing and shipping.

Anonymous said...

Barneys has a small grocery store now. his prices are good! personally i would like to see a "whole foods" or "trader joes" here.