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Greater Number of Smaller Grocery Stores the Key to Revitalizing St. Louis?

September 6, 2006 Farmers' Markets, Local Business, Public Transit 26 Comments

Last week a couple of seemingly unrelated posts converged here. Discussions about walking to the new Schnuck’s store coupled with a new book by a former St. Louisan on living car-free or at least car-lite and the usual discussion of mass transit.

As one commenter noted, it is regular grocery shopping that increases the apparent need for many of us to own, maintain and drive a personal car. Food is the one item we cannot defer making a purchase. That computer, new shoes or artwork can be put off but on a very regular basis we are all making a trek to the grocery store. The exception is my non-cooking friends but they still make it to the store for prepared meals and beverages.

I have some theories about grocery stores, sprawl and auto use. At this time I can offer no real evidence to prove or disprove my theories. But, I wanted to share and get your feedback.

This will be a cause-effect debate. Starting in the 1950s grocery stores moved from the small storefront to bigger stores with parking lots (Schnuck’s, Brentwood, 1952) and in the decades since each new store has grown larger and larger. As a result the total number of grocery stores serving the St. Louis region, relative to population, has probably decreased. The percentage of population within walking distance of a grocery store has also likely decreased.

So while most would say we fell in love with the car and shopping centers and grocery stores simply responded I don’t think that is the full picture. That may have been true initially but what has morphed over the last half century is the other way around: due to the travel distance required to get to a grocery store we have continued to need cars. At some point, as generations past, I believe the cause-effect reversed themselves. We don’t buy cars now because we want to, but because we must do so if we expect to feed our families.

While in Toronto this summer I was amazed at the lack of large chain grocery stores in the central core of the region, roughly the size of the City of St. Louis. Instead, every major street was a buzz with smaller markets and produce stands. For the person living in Toronto, the need for a car to buy groceries was nil. Instead they were offered numerous choices on where to shop. If they wanted to make some purchases at a more conventional grocery store a number of them were located along the subway lines further away from the core.

So my theory is that part of what is holding back St. Louis from repopulating as an urban core is partially the lack of grocery stores within walking distance from residential neighborhoods. Certainly, schools and mass transit are related issues but for those seeking a more urban and mostly car-free existence, it is a challenge to walk to the grocery store in the City of St. Louis unless you choose your place of residence carefully.

To this end, can we see a correlation with neighborhood density not around a transit stop but around grocery stores? So my theory goes that to rejuvenate and repopulate this city we need to have a reputable grocery store within a 1/4 mile walking distance of everyone. That is a lot of stores. Naturally, it would not happen overnight but you get the idea.

What wouldn’t work is the mammoth stores such as Schnuck’s (63,000sf), Dierberg’s, Shop-N-Save or even Whole Foods which are now approaching these other chains on store size. These chains will all claim they need to be bigger and bigger to compete. But does this only hold true in the far suburbs where they are competing to fill up a suburban family’s SUV? Chains like the locally based Save-A-Lot and Straub’s survive with smaller formats (granted, quite different from each other). California-based Trader Joe’s (owned by a trust of the brother that owns Aldi) also operates smaller format stores, roughly 15,000sf.

Can a chain operate more smaller stores and be as efficient as a single bigger store? It would seem the answer is yes. Is there a market for both type of store? Absolutely. The problem, as I see it, is we all assume the stores will get bigger and that we must drive to do our shopping. A good urban balance is not achieved locally between the bigger stores and the more reasonable sized stores.

Coming into the picture are other places to buy food such as Walgreen’s, CVS (in Illinois), Target and Wal-Mart. Locally-owned stores such as City Grocers, J’s International and numerous ethnic markets do serve a local need. And we have places like 7-11 and QT that supply basics on a convenience basis (24hrs, close by, cha-ching). And finally we see a resurgence in public markets throughout the city and region.

But, back to my theories and auto use. I believe that if we managed to locate a larger number of smaller stores (Aldi, Trader Joe’s, City Grocers, Straub’s, etc..) along with more farmer’s markets we can begin to break the auto habit. This would accomplish a number of things. Those on the lower end of the economic range, assuming they could use public transportation to get to work, could function in society without the huge financial burden of a car. This could very well improve their financial picture. The same holds true on up the economic ladder. By having fewer people driving within the city we’d have less need to build more parking structures. Our priorities would shift from road building projects to narrowing roads, widening sidewalks and constructing new buildings (local stores) where surface parking once existed. Demand for localized mass transit would increase substantially as more people lived within the city and more and more of those did not own personal vehicles.

Car sharing services would also be able to do well in such a market. In these cases, we could simply rent a car for a few hours to make that trip to the winery for the afternoon or to run to that business meeting out in the burbs not served by mass transit. That new TV, purchased with money saved by not owning a car, can be delivered.

Grocery shopping is keeping us from living a more car-free, walkable lifestyle in this city. Granted, if we were to subsidize the construction of 25 new stores in the city we would not see an immediate change. The correlation is there but it is not a direct cause-effect. But there is no denying that for many car ownership is required to lug home the week’s worth of groceries from the mega grocer.

– Steve


Currently there are "26 comments" on this Article:

  1. Tom says:

    While my wife and I own one car, she uses it. I am transit dependent by choice and one of the things that makes that possible is that I live a 7-minute walk from Straubs. I figure the savings in owning a car plus the time savings in shopping near my home, more than makes up for the premium I pay in groceries. The other savings I think when carrying groceries home, I end up shopping just about every day. I can’t prove it, but this way, I think I end up throwing away less food than you do when buying huge amounts at the chains or the big boxes.

    Although the St. Louis Whole Foods is located in sprawl land, I do think their business model shows that there are successful business models other than low price and high volume that can work in the grocery business. We need more developers like Craig Heller who is underwriting City Grocer to help get it off the ground.

    By the way, I have observed Dierbergs Shopping bags in the hands of MetroLink customers. We also have fielded complaints from riders about the poor access to Dierberg’s at Eager Rd.

    Tom Shrout
    Citizens for Modern Transit

  2. Mike says:

    Actually, one of the things that caused the change to larger stores was the ceasing of delivery services. One could have a week’s worth of groceries delivered to one’s house before WWII, and that was the norm. When I was a kid in San Diego, CA, we had a bakery that delivered as well as a milkman. But groceries stopped doing that because it was expensive and because more people had cars. And people, it seems, like to select their own groceries. In New York City, many stores still deliver because so few people, particularly in Manhattan, have cars (about 80% of the population of NYC does NOT own a car). There are enough hungry immigrants there to act as a labor pool for this, though they are grossly exploited by the merchants. And New Yorkers have smaller stores because real estate prices are high. They also shop more often because they have limited storage space in their apartments. The problem, thus, is far more complex–lots of moving parts: real estate practices, local ordinances, size of house/apartment, public transit, age of population, etc.

    But you’re right about local small groceries. I live in Oakland, between Webster and Kirkwood, and I regularly use Hanneke’s, a small neighborhood grocery, on Sappington just above Adams. But the owner tells me he makes no money on groceries but does make a profit from his bustling catering business. And he offers, like Straub’s, charge accounts. His store is a throwback to my youth in New England and England, where small neighborhood stores were as common a big ones. Hanneke’s is an invaluable neighborhood asset, but it cannot compete on price with the bigger stores. I hope it stays in business forever. For the majority of my grocery shopping, I go once a month to the Scott Air Force Base commissary–I’m retired military–and load up. But that is possible not only because I have a car, but because I have a basement and a freezer.

    [UR Yes, the issue is far more complex but I didn’t want to turn the post into a thesis. I guess in earlier times delivery was a bit easier because the food choices were simpler — a quart of milk just that. Now you have whole, 2%, 1% skim, soy milk (regular & vanilla), rice milk, etc.. I can’t possibly imagine how I’d buy my groceries online and have them delivered. I can’t tell if the ears of corn look good over the internet or phone. Still, some farm co-ops are growing and delivering fresh vegetables to people.

    My corner storefront was a meat market and grocery originally. The storefront space is roughly 600+ sq ft! Frankly, I like the idea of having different places for produce from staple items like canned goods to dairy.

    Hanneke in Glendale is a gem of a place, I used to go there when I worked in Kirkwood. That store does provide a valuable need to the local residents that can walk to the store. That reminds me, I need to visit the Tom-Boy store in the St. Louis Hills area. – SLP]

  3. Your Virtual Alderman says:


    The statistics in fact show the opposite: just like in the number of hospital beds or shopping malls per STL area resident, St. Louis is one of the most highly served regions in the country when it comes to grocery stores. As such, it is a highly competitive marketplace

    A big reason for this is the unusual situation we have here with a high percentage of independent, family owned grocery companies.

    Note the lack of national chains such as Safeway in St. Louis. They simply can’t compete in the St. Louis market.

    Also, if you look at some of the more vibrant neighborhoods of our region, you will find many independent neighborhood grocers within walking distance.

    Nonetheless, it would be nice to have more neighborhood markets. However, these operators will only open new markets in areas where there is a sufficient customer base.

    Also, even with solid customer bases, some market formulas fail. Remember the case of the train-themed grocer on South Grand. Maybe Trader Joe’s would consider the space?

    However, in conversations with TJ employees, they are echoing thinking recently profiled in a St. Louis Federal Reserve study about where businesses locate: TJ is looking to expand in lower density, higher income, higher educated areas such as West County and St. Charles.

    [UP I’m not saying as a region we have a need for more stores in total. My argument is, at least in the city, we have a need for more stores of a smaller footprint. They exist but not in walking distance, forcing us to drive to them. We can chose not to drive to the mall for that new shirt but we really can’t refuse to eat — at least not for long.

    Shop-N-Save and Save-A-Lot are both owned by a Minneapolis conglomerate and Aldi is a German owned company.

  4. Your Virtual Alderman says:


    If nothing else, we in St. Louis are a constant experiment in what works and what doesn’t when it comes to neighborhood revitalization and sustainability.

    In the 80s, it was the era of the “big project”, with developments like St. Louis Centre and Union Station.

    In the 90s, historic preservation surged, with STL leading the nation in historic rehab projects.

    In 00s, we are once again at the forefront, with a “what’s old is new again” model of immigrants repopulating city neighborhoods.

    And in the areas with heavy immigration, along Gravois, Kingsghighway, and Cherokee in South St. Louis, there has been a huge increase in
    the number of small, family owned grocery stores.

    YVA is speculating here, but is thinking that much of this market is serving customers based on the presence of a language barrier: New Americans have an easier time shopping in places where the owners speak their same language.

    YVA is concerned that as these new residents become more familiar with their new surroundings and the local language, they will start shopping like most St. Louisans do-at major chain grocery stores.

    Note that the large chain stores do provide more offerings tailored to our growing immigrant population.

  5. newsteve says:

    Unfortunately I dont think that more grocery stores (one within 1/4 mile of everyone) is the answer to repopulating urban areas. While it may be attractive as a convenience, I find it unlikely that most individuals and families would utilize the smaller mom and pop stores on a regular basis. These days we seem to have become a population that thrives on convenience. We have bigger homes, bigger refrigerators and freezers, and more storage. Being able to grocery shop once a week or even once every couple of weeks certainly frees up a whole lot of time to take care of all those other things we need to do. For most people, there seems to not be enough time in the day.

    I live within walking distance of a smaller grocery store (higher prices) and a large grocery store. I walk to both. Unfortunately I cannot shop for a weeks worth of food and carry it home on my own. On the other hand, if I have to walk to the gorcery store, buy what I need for the next day or two, it takes away another hour that I could use to accomplish some other task. While this is what I typically do – shop every day or two – most people cannot afford the time nor want to put forth the effort necessary to to do this. In addition, I know that I spend a whole lot more doing this than I would if I did a amjor shopping trip, say every week to 10 days.

    So, even if there were more groceries that were more convenient, I think it likely that most people would continue to drive to the larger grocery stores, buy almost everything they need for a week or two, and then only use the smaller grocery around the corner every once in a while when they only need an item or two.

    Unfortunately, again, the convenience of not having to shop every day or other day is more appealing to most than having the convenience of a grocery store within walking distance of their home. I think the answer truly lies in better access to public transporation if we want to decrease our need and dependance on automobiles and make urban living more attractive.

    [UR You are partially correct. A smaller grocery store every 1/4 mile in Chesterfield or other sprawl nightmare would never work because it is impossible to walk around there. I’ve seen subdivisions where it took 2 miles of driving just to get to a main road!

    The person who is car-free is walking anyway. So, a conveniently placed grocer would allow this person to buy their needs every day or two while walking home from the transit stop — that is what many (most?) do in urban cores.

    The problem is we are fitting the big box suburban solution into our urban core. I think the density and transit factors call for different solution in more urbanized areas vs. far suburban auto-dominent areas. -SLP]

  6. Joe Frank says:

    In the city, we certainly have fewer locations of chain grocers than we did even fifteen years ago.

    Hood’s on Jefferson and Utah was a National store. I think it closed in 1992. Big Lots on S. Broadway was a Kroger. And of course there’s the closed Foodland/National/Kroger at Jefferson and Lafayette where I used to shop sometimes. And so on.

    Some neighborhoods do still have corner stores. Many of them, however, have really poor service, are dirty, and have generally a ‘ghetto’ feel.

    Within walking distance of my house are Nieman’s Food Shop on California near Wyoming, and the Penny Saver at Utah and Minnesota, not to mention half a dozen Mexican groceries and two Asian stores on Cherokee.

    But, because it’s right next to my bus stop, I usually pick up a few things at the QT on Gravois and Nebraska. It’s a longer walk, but usually much cleaner, safer, and somewhat cheaper prices than those corner stores.

    Of course, historically many folks have felt those corner stores were exploitative, because they were owned by non-resident Jewish, Korean, or these days usually Muslim folks, with high prices, poor service, and expired foods ruling the shelves.

    I did stop into the corner store at Nebraska and Winnebago when I was working the polls last month, to pick up a soda. And sometimes I stop at the Xpress Mart in the strip mall on DeBaliviere at Pershing. But I don’t think I’d feel comfortable shopping there on a regular basis.

  7. Douglas Duckworth says:

    Are we forgetting markets?

    Why not promote Tower Grove Farmers Market as well as the one in Soulard.

    Obviously not everything can be bought there but they are a good alternative. I would love seeing them in other parks and there is probably a big enough market to support them.

    Cut out the grocer and get to the supplier directly.

  8. Jon says:

    Intersting topic.
    I am fortunate to live in a pretty walkable community. I can walk to work (7-8 minutes). I can walk to the drug store or grocery store (10 minutes) and most of the walks are plesant. Bus service, thanks to State U, is plentiful. So too is commuter rail into and out of NYC.

    But the poster above was right. Today is about convience. When I need something small and quick I will walk to the closer, but smaller grocery. Yet, I perfer to make the grocery list and drive once a week to a larger supermarket and load up with what I need, making it easier in the evenings to pick out something to make. Also, I perfer the selection and quality at the larger suburban store (better looking meat and produce).

    The keys for me are quality, selection, and efficency as much as proximity and auto use.

  9. Dan says:

    Steve, I believe what was mentioned about Hanneke is true with many of the small markets around town. I frequent Tom-Boy (Legrands), but mainly for meat and sandwiches which I happen to think are the best around.

    I would have a hard time believing that many of these places make money on Grocery items, it is the specialty items or catering that keeps these places running. IMO the limited selection is not the issue, it is price. I am not sure if any of these places have a purchasing arrangement in place already. I know if there was a way to organize and form a co-op with some of the mid-size stores (Sappington, STL Supermarkets) they may increase their viability as THE neighborhood market. You can open up 5 Tom-Boys in SW City, but unless the price and a greater selection on grocery products competes, you will not find them taking away much from Schnucks.

    For the time being, I am happy to walk to Legrands to get my fresh produce, meats and a few specialty items they carry while taking a trip to Schnucks every week or two for the remaining items. I think that is the type of shopping pattern we will see emerge as the city grows.

    [UR I think many are confusing what I am saying. I am not advocating tiny mom & pop stores every quarter mile. I’m advocating the 15,000sq ft Aldi/Trader Joe’s size store. Maybe every 1/4 mile it too much but certainly within a half mile. The smaller mom & pops can fill in the gaps along with bakeries and other specialty stores. – SLP]

  10. Your Virtual Alderman says:

    The internet is a great way to share ideas, but not neccesarily a productive way to get results.

    In an earlier post, YVA asked a poster about who the “many of us” referenced in an UR post was.

    Perhaps the dialogue here could be translated into a marketing effort to attract more Aldi’s or a Trader Joe’s to the city?

    Some locations to consider?

    South Jefferson
    Grand, south of Gravois.
    Downtown, near Jefferson and Locust
    Downtown, near Tucker and Delmar
    North City, near Union and Page

    However, these development plans are really more about real estate transactions than grocery sales.

    And that gets us back to things like blighting, eminent domain, redevelopment plans, TIFs, and tax abatement.

    And for those things, you need aldermen.

    [URThe beauty of smaller format stores like Aldi, Trader Joes, City Grocers or Straub’s is they do not require massive areas. For example, the former grocery store on Morganford near Arsenal is ideal for such a store.

    Throughout the city parcels are available in just the right size, eliminating the need for eminent domain to assemble 30 acre sites. What is needed is incremental tax incentives that encourage higher densities — the more urban the better the incentives. You want a big box surrounded by parking? No TIF for you! – SLP]

  11. newsteve says:

    In my neighborhood, on a saturday only, I can walk 2 blocks to the farmers market (spring, summer and fall only) buy produce and some specialty goods and walk home to drop them off. I can then walk two blocks to the smaller grocery store and pick up staples and other items not available at the farmers market, walk home and put them away. I can then walk a block to the bakery and pick up bread and pastries if i’m feeling dangerous and then take that home. I have had a lovely morning seeing neighbors and friends, got alittle exercise and saved some gas. It took nearly half the day to accomplish this, yet I havent even picked up my cleaning, or taken care of the 10 other things I need to do that day. Thats okay with me because I enjoyed myself and I have the luxury of being on my own and not having to worry about who is watching or feeding the kids, when am I going to mow the lawn, whose going to take the little one to little league practice, you get the picture. For me it works well, and unlike Jon, I have selection and quality at my doorstep. For most people these days, however, convenience is not a luxury but a necessity. I dont think I am confusing what you are saying, I just dont think most people have the time, or logistic capabilities to walk to several places to get all the things they need to care for tehmselves and/or their families every couple of days.

    [REPLY Well, I know that you don’t have a lawn or any little ones at home but I get your point. But, if you try to do all of that on the same day you will be making lots of trips and I know that for you that means in basically different directions. I can see how that would take a long time.

    But suppose you began taking the MetroLink to work. And suppose a nice sized market opened between the MetroLink station and your home, allowing you to stop in on the way home. This would free up the need to stock up on Saturday, leaving that day for going to the farmer’s market.

    The free market is a wonderful thing and placing a grocer near a transit stop allows people to do their shopping without a special trip. – SLP]

  12. Jim Zavist says:

    Unfortunately, I don’t think that I’m PC on this issue. I do like newer and bigger, and really don’t care if I have to drive there to bring my booty back. My wife likes Trader Joe, so we go to the one in Brentwood, but there’s no difference in the size of the parking lot or the potential walkability there or on Clarkson Road; the one on Olive doss have a smaller parking lot and may be slightly more walkable. In some ways, that reviled chain, Walgreens, is taking the place of the traditional corner grocery. While I wouldn’t want to live exclusively on what they stock, I’m pretty sure I could if I had to.

    The real challenge isn’t size so much as economics and demographics. Grocery stores have gotten bigger simply so they can sell more non-food stuff. The mark-up on greeting cards, booze, flowers and deli items is a lot higher than that on fresh food, allowing the chains to remain profitable. If they focused solely on food, they wouldn’t be able to pay their employees their union wages and keep their doors open. In a similar vein, the ability to pay goes down and the “shrinkage” (theft) goes up in poorer neighborhoods, resulting in the closed stores we see throughout St. Louis (might even be why access to the Eager Rd. Dierberg’s was made so difficult).

    As for your basic question, I think the answer is “maybe” – you won’t see the big boys making their stores any smaller anytime soon. If anything, they seem to be wanting to emulate Wal·Mart and put everything retail under one roof. What you’ll see is what’s already happening. The corner grocer has become a mini-mart, whether it’s a QT, a Walgreens, a Convenient Food Mart or a Hucks. It’ll stock the quick-stop basics, but you’ll still have to go to either one of the big boys or a boutique outlet like Straub’s or Whole Foods to get the “good stuff”. There simply isn’t enough of a market to justify a lot more outlets than they already have.

    Finally, farmers markets. Bottom line, there ain’t enough farmers interested in trying to sell retail to go around as it is, especially on Saturdays. Much like how the corner grocery has gone the way of the trolley, so has the family farm . . . See: http://www.riverfronttimes.com/issues/2006-05-31/news/news.html

  13. Jim Zavist says:

    Real life example – when I lived in Denver, we had a smaller, older Safeway that occupied 80% of a city block (with its requisite parking lot). It wanted to expand onto half of the next city block and grow both its store and its parking lot by 50%. I supported it, even though it meant taking out ±24 existing residences. Safeway did this without the use of eminent domain or any TIF-like programs. This was a purely business-driven decision on their part, they wanted to make more money and wanted to stay in the neighborhood. The neighbors pushed hard to limit the suburan impacts in a relatively urban neighborhood, with store facing a major and a secondary street, and turning its back on existing residences. In the long run, I was proved to be correct. The residents who sold out were well compensated (±120% of their actual value), the neighborhood gained a new and better grocery store, and the neighborhood has thrived since then (for a variety of reasons). Go to http://www.terraserverusa.com and put in 2150 S Downing, Denver, CO. This is no Loughborough Commons, nor is it an Aldi’s or a Straub’s. It works, and it may be a model worth pursuing here . . .

    Another example of slightly-creative infill (another Safeway), also in Denver, can be found by putting in 600 Corona St. The “aerial” photo is right after the old store was demolished; the “urban area” photo shows the final result

    Hint (especially on the second one) – work with both the grocery and the city to reduce the required on-site parking. With adjacent on-street parking and a good pedestrian infrastructure, there’s less need for the typical huge suburban parking lot. And as with most commercial architecture these days, the parking requirements drive a lot of the decision-making processes. This may not be your traditional corner grocery, but its a win-win in many ways, even though a few (not a lot) of homes have to bite the dust . . .

    [UR Sorry Jim but I’ve seen far too many examples of Safeways in places like Seattle and Vancouver where they are more responsible around parking. Put it under the store like our Target and then put some condos up on top to help offset the costs. More urban and built-in customers on site. – SLP]

  14. LisaS says:

    One of the big hindrances to Americans walking to the grocery store is the notion of buying a week’s worth of groceries at a time. We lived in Rome for a while, and learned to shop for a few things at a time. Meat tastes better on the day it’s bought. Veggies and bread stay fresher (although, I’ve short-circuited that whole thing by getting a subscription to a local CSA farm).

    Schnucks does offer an internet order/delivery service. It costs ~$15, but I’ve been considering using it to save me the time and agony of making that two-hour long bi-weekly trip to stock up on staples. (It looks easy, Steve. Really. I could save $15 in impulse buys alone …)

    And despite its reputation to the contrary …. Straub’s is more than just a “boutique” market–it’s a neighborhood store, where the people know your name, your kids, and your dog. It’s small enough to get through without (the kids) screaming, and very little junk food on the shelves. It’s a shame more people don’t know shopping like that.

  15. Multimodal says:

    I don’t find shopping at Straub’s all that expensive. While I don’t do the majority of my shopping there I do stop at the one in the CWE a few times a week on my way home from the gym. I have devloped a multi-pronged approach to grocery shopping favoring the smaller “upscale” stores to the crowded and loud larger (and sometimes outright filthy) stores. Besides Straub’s I fulfill my needs with visits to City Grocers, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and the Tower Grove and Soulard farmers markets. Most are not dedicated trips but a stop in getting from here to there. Whatever small premium I am paying is worth not dealing with the hassles of my closest Schnuck’s and Shop-N-Save stores. My nerves are worth a lot more than saving .40 on toilet paper but if just the employees were nearly as nice as the other places I mentioned they just might get my business. I am ambivelent about Trader Joe’s even though it is clean, not TOO far, has friendly staff, and is more than econimical, because I have a hard time justifying the petroleum used to ship everything from California (and some from Australia!). We have perfecetly good cows here that can produce my organic milk. I do wish they sourced locally. I know this would disrupt their economy of scale but I would pay just a wee bit more — I promise…

  16. Jim Zavist says:

    To bury the parking and put condos on top requires densities that rarely exist in St. Louis – I can think of parts of downtown St. Louis, downtown Clayton and possibly the CWE. Unfortunately, within a few minutes of all of these areas is plenty of lower-density land that doesn’t require this sort of infrastructure. We aren’t land-locked like Seattle, Vancouver, San Francisco or Manhattan (NY, not Kansas), so no business in their right mind, and especially one that operates on the thin margins of a grocery store, is going to needlessly invest in these types of costs to open a store.

    Would I like to see this? Sure! But I’m also a pragmatist. We need to pick our battles. Better to find the right (better? not so sucky?) places to put these necessities of modern life. Then we can encourage the smaller, boutique businesses (by actually shopping in their stores) to locate along our traditional urban arterials.

    Bottom line, it sounds like we’re getting back to that old discussion of density – without significantly increasing it around here, we won’t be truly urban, public transit will continue to struggle, parking will remain mostly “free” and we’ll continue to gobble up farmland for new subdivisions. Trust me, if there was money to be made by having more and smaller groceries, that vacuum will be filled. As it is, you have the corner mini-mart, the big-ass traditional grocery store and the boutique markets in richer areas that are meeting the food needs of the bulk of our residents – we vote with our cash every day, and these are the winners (for better or worse)!

    [URSo by your logic we are not dense & urban and therefore will not become more dense & urban. Anyone that wants to live in a more urban & dense environment should sell their house now and move to another region? That is your pragmatic solution? – SLP]

  17. Eric says:

    Speaking of small grocers, I’d heard awhile ago that another grocer would be coming in Downtown west of Tucker – anyone know what the story is with that?

  18. Robert says:

    One of the worst things that ever happened in St. Louis was the 1995 buyout of National Supermarkets by Schnucks. National had a history of keeping stores open in smaller neighborhoods and actually were the only grocer in areas that Schnucks and Dierbers wouldn’t go near. They truly were a neighborhood grocer for many.

  19. Jim Zavist says:

    No, read what I said again – we need to pick our battles. Vancouver and Seattle are hemmed in by mountains and water, and their supply of developable land is truly limited. The ONLY way they can grow is to get more dense and build up. If you want to build a supermarket, just the high price of raw ground will force you to get more creative, including doing all the good stuff, like putting any parking under the building.

    We live, for better or worse, in a region that has plenty of land that’s cheap enough to justify surface parking. We can hold our breath until we’re blue in the face, but the reality remains that supermarkets are going to take the path of least resistance, and continue to build big stores with big parking lots because a) it works for them financially, and b) our elected officials are too afraid of killing the sales tax golden goose to require anything else!

    We can’t win that war. We can (and should) push for higher densities in areas where they can and should work, at transit stations, along our surface arterial streets and in our urban cores. Will these “better”, more-dense projects have anything other than boutique markets, convenience stores, trendy restaurants and cute retail outlets? Probably not. But this isn’t all bad. It’s a positive step in the right direction and should be encouraged and embraced. Will the residents who live upstairs shop downstairs? Most likely, yes. But they will also still go to the supermarket for the larger selection and the better prices.

    Bigger picture, we need to be more concerned about Wal·Mart’s inroads into the grocery business. While they haven’t done much here, they’ve had a major impact on the local grocery world in other cities, and if you think that they’ll be interested in embracing a more urban model, you’re delusional.

    We also need to change our local mindsets. I was truly surprised by the lack of interest the Metrolink extension generated among commuters. Until we can pry people out of their SOV’s and onto transit of any kind, we won’t see an interest in higher densities, and without higher densities, we won’t have a need for mixed-use projects or the critical mass neede to make their tenants successful!

    [UR Seattle and Vancouver are not land locked, they have lots of open land and they are too sprawling. Trust me, I’ve driven through these areas in both cities! Your logic implies we must get everyone out of their SUVs and onto our existing light rail and then, and only then, should we take on the battle of creating density.

    Well, it just can’t happen that way. Density and mass transit are interrelated and must be approached together. You should not be surprised at the lack of interest in MetroLink, there is no density to support it because at say Hanley & Eager the municipalities didn’t require any density. That battle should have been fought. – SLP]

  20. Matt B says:

    I would bet that most homes in St. Louis are in 1/4 mile of some source of food shopping (supermarket, convenience store, etc.) already. Although not all are desirable to all residents.

    For a reality check I put some numbers to your premise – a reputable grocery store with broad appeal within a quarter mile of all homes in the city.

    Currently, including Schnuck’s, Shop n’ Save, Straubs, Save a lot, Aldi, there is about 1,000,000 square feet of “reputable” grocery space already in the city that pretty adequetly serves the needs of residents.

    The city is 62 square miles, so to cover the city with a network of these stores every half mile would mean 248 stores. At 15,000 square feet per store that would be 3,720,000 square feet of reputable grocery store space.

    There just isn’t the demand to support this much grocery space.

    [UR Interesting. I did a bit of research by reading a report on retailing in St. Louis written by — you! I quote,
    “In the supermarket sector, the gap analysis suggested that 4.5 additional stores could be justified by excess demand in the city. The county also contained excess demand for groceries. This excess demand would justify six additional stores.”

    What is not clear is an additional 4.5 stores of what size? The 60K+ type or the 5K-15K type? Like many of these issues, we say we can’t have small neighborhood stores until we have more density but can’t have the density until we have small stores. It is a complex picture combined with transit and many other factors.

    City Grocers is “reputable” and is only 5,000sf. Straub’s too is not likely over 10K sf. I believe more local neighborhood stores (not mom & pops necessarily) could be part of a bigger plan to increase population and thus drive demand for even more neighborhood stores.

    We must start somewhere because right now we are simply waiting until things change. It will not happen overnight. We must change the zoning, the density, the mass transit, the schools, the retail options, and the walk & bike access of our entire city. They cannot be taken alone. Nobody, especially not the aldermen, is addressing this at City Hall. – SLP]

  21. Hans Gerwitz says:

    I think this is a worthy insight, and would like to go out on a limb and offer an implementation suggestion rather than just criticism 😉

    The DTSLP should be courting White Hen (or similar) to open two pilot Downtown locations. Hopefully, success there would motivate them to continue expanding throughout the City.

    [URYes, many seem willing to criticize the concept of neighborhood stores — folks need to think outside our narrow little self-imposed box.

    White Hen is a great suggestion! These are nice stores and all over Chicago providing fresh veggies, deli items and an increasing amount of organics. In their real estate site selection area they want to know both traffic and pedestrian counts! However, they were just purchased by the same Japanese company that owns 7-11.

    I’d like to see Schnuck’s and/or Dierbergs develop a 5K-15K urban store format. I know Schnuck’s tried something a few years back but that was out at Gravois & ? in the burb’s. – SLP]

  22. scott says:


    I recently visited Cincinnati and went to the Fresh Market store there. It was amazing. This is exactly what we need in STL. Not too big but had a huge variety of prepared foods, deli, produce and canned goods, and cleaning supplies. These stores are sprouting up all along the South and eastern Midwest. Who do we contact in our city so stores like this can be courted into coming to our city? I encourage you to look over this website and pass this info along to those that can make this work.

    Scott Holifield
    The message is ready to be sent with the following file or link attachments:

    Shortcut to: http://www.thefreshmarket.com/

  23. Matt B says:

    Perhaps I oversimplified to keep the comment to a reasonable size.

    By “pretty adequetly” serving St. Louis I meant that there is not a dramatic shortage, like in Detroit where there are no “name brand” supermarkets in the city (not downtown, but the city limits). St. Louis has decent grocery coverage – except for downtown every city home is within 1.5 or 2 miles (can’t remember which) of at least one large supermarket (Schnucks or Shop n Save), many are close to 2 or 3. City Grocers fills the downtown gap nicely.

    Currently that 4.5 store (meaning supermarkets 65,000 sqft) defecit is being served by stores like Walgreens and non-“reputable” grocers.

    I’m not saying we couldn’t use several new smaller stores like you describe, but and additional 2.5 million square feet is overkill, and could not be supported.

    I would like to see one Whole Foods, two or three smaller stores like Trader Joes, and a network of independently owned corner markets, that are clean and appealing to a broad range of incomes. For example Gustine Market (Gustine just south of Arsenal), but cleaned up and significantly upgraded.

  24. Adam says:

    I agree with Robert and his National comment. When Schnucks bought National in ’95, they closed six Nationals and two Schnucks stores immediately. Some of those have reopened since, but other stores have closed because they have stopped making money or because a new store (or stores)opened in its place. For example, when Schnucks opened its new store at City Plaza, it closed the former National at 4331 Natural Bridge. That store has reopened as a St. Louis Supermarkets store, and except for a fire a few years ago, the store is doing well.

    The Big Lots at 4330 S. Broadway was originally a Schnucks. I think I read on this site that Big Lots might be moving to Loughborough Commons…and if they do, there will be another empty grocery store building.

    When National was here, they weren’t against keeping smaller stores open (4331 Natural Bridge, 4127 N. Grand, 2700 S. Grand, to name a few). Schnucks still operates the old National on N. Grand, but I see it being replaced sometime in the future.

    I’m really surprised that the old National on Cass hasn’t had a new tenant move in since Schnucks closed in Sept. 2000 (it will be six years to the day this Saturday, 9/16). It’s a large store, even larger than the one on Lindell. That store would be very beneficial should the neighborhood come back/be redeveloped.

    While Schnucks is my favorite grocery chain, I do feel that they should have left National alone!

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