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From Food Desert to Food Oasis, The St. Louis Grocery Market Has Changed

For many years St. Louis’ near south side was a food desert:

Food deserts are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. (USDA)

With the recent opening of the Save-A-Lot in Jefferson Commons and Fields Foods last week, this former food desert is now a food oasis.  St. Louis still has a number of food deserts, but this is slowly changing. Let’s take a look at the near south side.

Jefferson & Lafayette used to have a Foodland, but it closed years ago. On the SE corner an ALDI used to serve the same customer base, but it also closed years ago.  Less value conscious customers have always had to go outside the area for their groceries.  Now the grocery needs of most everyone should be met with two new grocery stores: Save-A-Lot and Fields Foods.

Save-A-Lot

The Save-A-Lot opened in the southern portion of the old Foodland space, now known as Jefferson Commons. I was at the community meeting in May 2012 when it was announced that Save-A-Lot was announced as the grocery store coming to the development, the reaction in the packed gymnasium was mostly disappointment. Save-A-Lot, based in Earth City, is a subsidiary of Minnesota-based SuperValu.

The new Save-A-Lot store on south Jefferson
The new Save-A-Lot store on south Jefferson
The fresh produce section of the new Save-A-Lot impressed me when we shopped there in mid-December
The fresh produce section of the new Save-A-Lot impressed me when we shopped there in mid-December

I’m not a huge fan of Save-A-Lot or ALDI’s, but I’m also not too snobby to shop at either, on occasion.  We stopped in to shop at the new Save-A-Lot in December and I was very impressed. Sure, cases of product with the front of the boxes cut off doesn’t make for a special shopping experience. As a label reader, I rarely found an item with a bar code that didn’t contain items I won’t consume (high fructose corn syrup, for example). That said, the fresh greens & other produce was much better than I expected, beautifully displayed at the entry too.

Nice for the immediate area, but nothing to make me hop on a bus every week to shop.

Fields Foods

This new concept is what changes the local grocery market. Years ago downtown developer Craig Heller opened City Grocers to help sell more lofts. Better than nothing, it was an upscale convenience store: limited selection with high prices. When Schnucks opened Culinaria in 2009 Heller wisely shuttered City Grocers.  Fields Foods is also an effort by a real estate developer, Chris Goodson of Gilded-Age, but the similarities end there.

Fields Foods at 1500 Lafayette Ave
Fields Foods at 1500 Lafayette Ave
Great produce selection
Great produce selection

Fields Foods is part of a bigger concept:

The St. Louis Food Hub is a unique social enterprise that distributes, processes and retails foods from local farmers and food producers. Headquartered in the midst of the city’s historic Lafayette Square district, the food hub is a collaborative effort between three businesses that share the same vision.

  • Fields Foods is a full-service grocery store specializing in bringing local foods to local shoppers.
  • Virtual Food Hub is an online platform where local farmers and those who purchase their products connect to do business.
  • Farm to Family Foods is a distributor, processor, and wholesaler of local foods.

Together, these Food Hub companies are pioneering the effort to consolidate a regional food system, setting new benchmarks for food desert remediation and breathing healthy life into urban renewal.

At the opening they talked about opening more Fields Food stores. Perhaps on the near north side?

Organic foods are an option
Organic foods from brands like Westbrae are an option
Familiar brands are also on the shelves
Familiar brands are also available, catering to different budgets

The Best Choice brand is an affordable line of products from Kansas City based Associated Wholesale Grocers, these products are also available at stores like Save-A-Lot and Straub’s. Fields Foods has a nice salad bar, hot food bar, deli, etc. We were there for the ribbon cutting on Friday and returned on Saturday to shop.

Impact

Fields Foods is larger than Culinaria, so it’s able to offer a wider selection of products. I can see myself taking the short bus ride to shop here once or twice a week.  Others may stop by when driving to/from downtown.

The other store that will be impacted is Local Harvest Grocery, on Morgan Ford at Arsenal. Local Harvest carries a decent selection of organic and local products, Fields Foods will cut into that market. How much isn’t known yet.

When Whole Foods opens at Euclid & West Pine in 2015 it’ll be equal distance to downtown as Fields Foods, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens then. I’ve been frustrated by Culinaria’s selection for years, their recent modifications improved things a bit. Hopefully Fields Foods will be a wake up call to Schnucks that they can’t continue merchandising Culinaria the way they have been.

Future

As mentioned, we still have some areas that are a food desert.  These areas could benefit by having a Fields Foods to provide a source for quality food and employment. I also wonder if the changes in the local market, especially the upcoming Whole Foods, will cause Trader Joe’s to get serious about a location in the city? I don’t like the initial site plan of Midtown Station, but the location would be excellent.

Also, Fields Foods might fail, predicting the grocery market isn’t easy. National chain Wild Oats, before being bought by Whole Foods, opened a second St. Louis area store in Chesterfield.  Despite the affluence of Chesterfield the store failed and closed.  After sitting vacant for a few years, a Trader Joe’s opened in the space.  Local Harvest Grocery opened a 2nd location in Kirkwood in late 2012, but it closed less than a year later.

The Kirkwood location of Local Harvest Grocery was open less than a year. Source: Facebook
The Kirkwood location of Local Harvest Grocery was open less than a year. Source: Facebook

I think Fields Foods is making a big enough entry into the local grocery scene that some other stores, like Culinaria, will notice. Given the population isn’t increasing, every dollar spent at a new store is a dollar not being spent at an existing store.

I hope Fields Foods propers and opens new locations, each with good pedestrian access.

— Steve Patterson

 

I Really Wanted a Bowl of Papa FaBarre’s French Onion Soup

The other day I was out taking photos and passed by the Railway Exchange Building that used to have a Macy’s and before that Famous-Barr. It was cold out and I pictured myself inside Papa FaBarre’s having a warm bowl of the French Onion Soup (recipe).

ABOVE: The entrance to Papa Fabares on the 2nd Floor of Macy's
The entrance to Papa Fabarre’s was on the 2nd floor, September 2009. It closed in 2011 when Macy’s downsized the store, click image for more info.
Peeking into Papa Fabarre's in September 2009
Peeking into Papa Fabarre’s in September 2009

I only are in Papa FaBarre’s a few times, but I had many meals in the St. Louis Room on the 6th floor. The soup was also available there as was a salad bar.

I don’t miss a downtown department store because I’ve never been a fan of the traditional department store retail model. Macy’s closed the downtown store this summer.

For vegetarians that want to make the soup without beef stock here’s a recipe I’ll be making this weekend. No post tomorrow, I’ll be cooking.

— Steve Patterson

 

6th Street Facade of One Financial Building is Retail Ready

In November I suggested that Stifel missed an opportunity for good urbanism by putting a sculpture at Broadway & Washington corner of their building, One Financial, rather than corner a corner retail space. Here’s how the corner looks now:

Bear vs. Bull sculpture by  Harry Weber
Bear vs. Bull sculpture by Harry Weber at Broadway & Washington

I finished that post with “They can still create an active corner on the west side, at 6th — facing MetroLink.” I still wish something more active was on the front corner, but the 6th Street side is made for retail.

The NW corner of One Financial at 6th & Washington, adjacent to the Convention Center MetroLink station
The NW corner of One Financial at 6th & Washington, adjacent to the Convention Center MetroLink station
At a back door we can tell the interior floor is even with the sidewalk making access easy.
At a back door we can tell the interior floor is even with the sidewalk making access easy.
The 6th Street facade was designed new to have  retail space
The 6th Street facade was designed new to have retail space
Entrance to the retail space has existed since 1984
Entrance to the retail space has existed since 1983, before St. Louis Centre opened across the street
This retail space is very visible from the new 600 Washington lobby.
This retail space is very visible from the new 600 Washington lobby across 6th St
Same point looking toward Washington Ave we see the MX with Pi Pizzeria on the ground floor, mote MetroLink entrances, The Laurel Apts, Embassy Suites, and the future Blues Hall of Fame.
Same point looking toward Washington Ave we see the MX with Pi Pizzeria on the ground floor, mote MetroLink entrances, The Laurel Apts, Embassy Suites, and the future Blues Hall of Fame.
One Financial's 6th St facade as seen from across the street at the top of the MetroLink stairs
One Financial’s 6th St facade as seen from across the street at the top of the MetroLink stairs
Next door  the base of the parking garage was also designed for retail uses
Next door the base of the parking garage was also designed for retail uses

I’m very aware there’s already lots of vacant retail space available, but this large space in One Financial has great visibility at a corner busy with locals and visitors: location, location, location! Retailers looking for the right space are going to hire a commercial broker to search listings to find the right location, it it’s not listed they’re not going to consider it.

I’d much rather see a “retail space for lease” sign than closed office blinds. Stifel needs to relocate anyone in this space to another floor in the building and get this space on the market.

— Steve Patterson

 

Fields Foods Has Blatant ADA Violation, Shouldn’t Get Occupancy Permit Until Corrected (UPDATED)

In early November I visited the site of a new grocery store opening on January 4th, Fields Foods.  I was disappointed with respect to pedestrian access:

I’m very glad to see the store nearing completion. It’ll provide needed jobs, though jobs may be lost elsewhere as people change where they buy groceries. Sadly, it doesn’t appear any consideration to the many who will arrive daily on foot, some pushing strollers, and even the occasional wheelchair user. <snip>

Hopefully, somehow, I’ll be proven wrong when the grocery store opens January 4th.

I visited again last Thursday, and with the site work done I can say it isn’t what I expected: it’s both better and worse!

A new sidewalk connects to the public sidewalk along Lafayete, something I didn't see on my prior site visit.
A new walkway connects to the public sidewalk along Lafayete, something I didn’t see on my prior site visit. Could I have been wrong, is this a proper ADA-compliant access route?
Unfortunately this walkway is only for the able-bodied because at the end there isn't a curb ramp, nor one across the driveway
Unfortunately this walkway is only for the able-bodied because at the end there isn’t a curb ramp, nor one across the driveway
The non-ADA walkway seen from the driveway looking back toward 14th & Lafayette
The non-ADA walkway seen from the driveway looking back toward 14th & Lafayette
The green line represents what would be a logical point for a crosswalk, the red line is the route wheelchair users, like myself, will be forced to use after entering via the main automobile drive, formerly 14th Street. This is a major conflict with cars.
The green line represents what would be a logical point for a crosswalk, the red line is the route wheelchair users, like myself, will be forced to use after entering via the main automobile drive, formerly 14th Street. This is a major conflict with cars.
The sidewalk remains from when 14th was a public street. Pedestrians entering via 14th will have to walk in the grass since the sidewalk wasn't continued.
The sidewalk remains from when 14th was a public street. Pedestrians entering via 14th will have to walk in the grass since the sidewalk wasn’t continued. A BSI employee confirmed the concrete work was complete, the rest of this area will be grass or plantings.
Anyone thinking about pedestrian access would've connected to the 14th & Lafayette intersection.
Anyone thinking about pedestrian access would’ve connected to the 14th & Lafayette intersection.
The able-bodied not pushing a stroller or walking  with a small child and approaching from the west will likely but through the parking lot (right) rather than use the walkway where the red sign is located.
The able-bodied not pushing a stroller or walking with a small child, and approaching from the west, will likely cut through the parking lot (right) rather than use the walkway where the red sign is located.
As I previously noted, no provisions are provided for pedestrians to the east.
As I previously noted, no provisions are provided for pedestrians to the east. St. Louis has or will be vacating Soulard St between 13th and the former 14th
The ADA also requires a pedestrian route between buildings within the same development, which wasn't considered here at all.
The ADA also requires a pedestrian route between buildings within the same development, which wasn’t considered here at all. Another building(s) is planned for the land bounded by Lafayete, 13th, Soulard (former), and 14th (former).
Not sure who's a fault for the failure to comply with the spirit and letter of the ADA: owner, designer, contractor?
Not sure who’s a fault for the failure to comply with the spirit and letter of the ADA: owner, architect, contractor?
Or perhaps the developer is to blame?  My guess is a combination of all of these as well as the City of St. Louis.
Or perhaps the master developer is to blame? My guess is a combination of all of these as well as the City of St. Louis. Pace is the developer behind the proposed Midtown Station and served as IKEA’s commercial broker

Last Thursday I contacted several St. Louis officials to alert them to the issues I discovered. I suggested they withhold the occupancy permit until the walkway is retrofitted to be ADA-compliant with a curb ramp, crosswalk, and curb ramp on the building side. Providing pedestrian access not accessible to all is a very clear ADA violation.  I gave my card to the BSI employee I talked to last week, he said he’d give it to the owner. I’ve not heard back from anyone.

It would’ve been fairly easy to design & build this to be highly accessible/walkable from all directions, new construction shouldn’t need to be retrofitted. When the city is vacating public streets pedestrian access from that direction should be provided.

The parties involved in the project are collectively incompetent with respect to pedestrian access. The ADA is more than grab bars in the bathroom. I’ll be there on January 4th to see if the situation is improved.

— Steve Patterson

UPDATE 12/23/2013 @ 9:45am — I just talked with Fields Foods owner Chris Goodson, he said workers are correcting the situation. The sidewalk shown wasn’t part of the original design, it was added after the fact after my November post.

 

Occasional Home Delivery Allows Me To Shop as a Pedestrian, Transit User Most of the Time

December 19, 2013 Environment, Featured, Retail 12 Comments

A reader brought up a topic I’ve been wanting to write about for a while now. Moe asked how I’d get a Christmas tree home since I don’t have a car, here’s the thread:

Comments on Sunday's blog post with respect to delivery, click to view post.
Comments on Sunday’s blog post with respect to delivery, click to view post.

Moe expressed a common, but fundamentally flawed view: that everyone driving a car is more efficient than using delivery services. Researchers have been looking into this topic for a while and the results are interesting and surprising. From 2009:

Books are by far the most popular items purchased through the Internet. In just the past two years, the number of consumers buying books online rose by nearly 10 percent. Most patronize book “e-tailers” because of lower prices, but done right, online bookselling also has a smaller carbon footprint.

Like any good novel, the story of how a bookworm gets her book has a beginning, a middle and an end. A book destined for a brick-and-mortar store is printed, packed in bulk, transported by heavy-duty truck to a publisher’s warehouse, transferred to an intermediate warehouse or two, and delivered to the bookstore. Customers might then drive 15 or more miles round trip to purchase the exciting new title. A book sold online has a slightly different plot line: after arrival at the publisher’s warehouse, air or freight travel to a sorting center and individual repackaging, its dramatic finale is home delivery by light-duty truck.

Transportation is the biggest contributor to carbon emissions in both retail and e-tail product pathways. When purchasing a book from a bookstore, each household drives separately, but delivery trucks take purchases to many customers on a single route. There’s also a decent chance that the delivery truck is more fuel-efficient than your family sedan. UPS, for example, has invested millions of dollars in alternative fuel technologies, and as of 2008, its fleet included more than 10,000 low-emission, hydraulic, hydrogen fuel cell and electric vehicles.

When it comes to packaging, however, brick-and-mortar bookshops generally claim the environmental edge. Shrink-wrapping, padding and boxing each individual novella, as e-tailers do, is hardly going to maximize materials efficiency and minimize waste. (Walking to a used bookstore, or downloading an ebook, will do exactly that—but we haven’t been asked about those options yet!)

Both online and brick-and-mortar booksellers operate climate-controlled storage warehouses, but retailers usually own or lease additional storage and distribution facilities. Likewise, the energy consumed to browse and purchase books online is much less than that needed to build, light, heat, and cool physical bookstores. By streamlining the purchase and delivery process, e-tailers minimize the need for buildings and their associated energy usage. (Sanford Magazine) 

Online retailer Amazon has been working to reduce packaging:

Launched in 2008 with 19 products, participation in the initiative has grown from 4 to over 2,000 manufacturers, including Fisher-Price, Mattel, Unilever, Seventh Generation, Belkin, Victorinox Swiss Army, Logitech and many more. To date, Amazon has shipped over 75 million Frustration-Free items to 175 countries.

Frustration-Free Packaging also reduces waste for customers. So far, the initiative has:

  • Eliminated 58.9 million square feet of cardboard
  • Removed 24.7 million pounds of packaging
  • Reduced box sizes by 14.5 million cubic feet

Amazon customers have helped guide the program with their ratings and feedback on product packaging. (Sustainable Brands)

Disclosure: I’m an Amazon (AMZN) shareholder.

Grocery delivery is another that is growing in popularity and researchers looked at this in a recent case study in the Seattle area:

Home food delivery trucks, they found, produce 20 to 75 percent less carbon dioxide than having the same households drive to the store. The variation is based on how close people live to the store, the number of people in the neighborhood getting food delivered and the efficiency of the truck’s route. (NPR: Grocery Home Delivery May Be Greener Than Schlepping To The Store)

Source:
NPR/TRF/Univ of Washington

What’s surprising is how home delivery results in bigger reductions in rural/suburban areas vs urban areas due to distances traveled.  If you take the time to think about it, it does make sense. Those who live in rural & suburban areas drive many more miles than those who live in more compact urban centers.

So yes, I do have items delivered at times. With roughly 80 units in our condo association, UPS & FedEx are here almost daily anyway. By shopping locally using my electric wheelchair, taking MetroBus &/or MetroLink to stores, I’ve reduced my carbon footprint substantially over driving a car for those trips. Having items delivered, especially the occasional large bully item, allows me to do most of my shopping as a pedestrian and transit user.

As an informed consumer, I do sleep better at night.

— Steve Patterson

 

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