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My Favorite Grocery Store In The City of St. Louis: ALDI Gravois Plaza

August 5, 2019 Featured, Planning & Design, Retail Comments Off on My Favorite Grocery Store In The City of St. Louis: ALDI Gravois Plaza

I remember my first time entering an ALDI grocery store. It was the early 90s, I’d just moved to St. Louis and was looking for work. They were hiring for management positions. So I went to the location that was on the southeast corner of Jefferson & Lafayete.

The interior lighting was awful, the packaged food all contained questionable ingredients, and they only accepted cash  — not even debit cards. The management positions required relocation, which didn’t interest me. I also wasn’t interested in becoming a shopper.

In the late 90s or so living in Dutchtown & Mt. Pleasant neighborhoods I would occasionally shop at the ALDI on South Grand (1992) or Gravois near Kingshighway (1997), though what I’d buy was very limited.  I’d usually shop at the Shop-n-Save at Gravois Plaza, or the Schnucks at Loughborough Commons.

Then in late 2007 I moved to Downtown West and, in early 2008, had a massive stroke. In  February 2013 my then-boyfriend moved in with me — we needed more food on a budget.

Over the last few years I’ve become a huge fan of German  grocery store chain ALDI. Because of their limited selection it’s not the only place we buy groceries, but we go once a month to stock up. Each week is a big stock up trip: ALDI, Trader Joe’s, Costco, Target. In between I get a few items at Culinaria 2-3 times per week.   Yesterday was the first weekend of the month, so I went to ALDI.

The nearest ALDI to our apartment is at Natural Bridge & Grand (1999). I’ve shopped there once in the last year. It was ok. I’ve also  been to the ALDI in Jennings a few times. However, usually I would drive to the newer ALDI at Delmar & Kingshighway (2013).

When Shop-n-Save closed up all their remaining locations (2017) I wondered how long that space would stay vacant. A few years earlier the ALDI on Grand wanted to take over the former McDonald’s location, closing the street between them, so they could build a new store. Thankfully they weren’t allowed to close Phillips Place.

So it was no surprise when ALDI announced they were taking part of the former Shop-n-Save location. When I first went to the new location after it opened I was very glad it adopted their new interior design that we’d seen in a newish ALDI in St. Louis County.

In older ALDI stores produce is hidden in a back corner far from the entrance. Their new design puts it right up front.
The black ceiling and LED lighting give a much more upscale appearance.

While the new location is a very pleasant shopping experience, getting here isn’t easy for pedestrians. Most weeks we do our bulk shopping together with our car. There have been weeks, depending upon my husband’s work schedule,  where I use transit to get essentials. If that occurs on an ALDI week/weekend, I’ll have to go back to Kingshighway & Delmar. I’ve posted before how Gravois Plaza has zero ADA-compliance accessible routes from public sidewalks to any building on site. The newish Wendy’s is the only exception.

Red arrows show the many pedestrian routes with no provisions, the one green arrow is for the Wendy’s. Click map above to see December 2013 post

The previous ALDI was great for pedestrians, right up to the sidewalk with a bus stop right out front on the busy #70 bus.

The now-closed ALDI at 3701 S. Grand.

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This is the corner of the old Shop-n-Save where ALDI is now located. October 2014 photo
In December 2018 the corner blocks had been removed.
In February 2019 the corner began resembling other ALDI stores.
We first shopped at the new ALDI on March 27, 2019

Even though it’s my favorite favorite grocery store, for now, it is not perfect. Most ALDI stores have disabled parking next to the building, allowing us to walk into the store without needing to cross a busy drive. Here the disabled parking is out front — meaning I must cross the main drive for the entire shopping center. When exiting the store and going to our car with a cart I have to work really hard to keep the cart from dragging me into the drive/lot faster than I can walk — the slope doesn’t appear that drastic, but it is. So I have to walk slower across the drive.

The store is still compact compared to other supermarkets, but this ALDI feels more spacious than older ALDI locations. Yesterday afternoon it was very busy. We even saw at least six Instacart food delivery shoppers in the store!  That’s one way to get around trying to access the store as a pedestrian/transit user.

We’ve been very pleased with everything we’ve bought — except cold dill pickles in the deli case. I still have to read labels as some items still contain high-fructose corn syrup. Very glad they accept all major credit cards and have ApplePay at registers.  Hopefully at some point pedestrian access will be retrofitted at Gravois Plaza.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers: Union Station Made Right Decision To Ditch Failed Retail Mall

July 17, 2019 Featured, Retail Comments Off on Readers: Union Station Made Right Decision To Ditch Failed Retail Mall

St. Louis Union Station, built in 1894, has an interesting history.

By the last decade of the 19th century St. Louis found itself in an increasingly important role as “The Gateway To The West” since it lay at the conjunction of the mighty Missouri and Mississippi rivers.  The Transcontinental Railroad had been finished just over 20 years prior and new lines were still being built across the Frontier.  In addition, many eastern and western trunk lines, or their future subsidiaries, terminated at the city such as the Iron Mountain & Southern (Missouri Pacific); Wabash; Ohio & Mississippi (Baltimore & Ohio), Louisville & Nashville; Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis (the “Big Four” controlled by the New York Central); St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (Frisco); Missouri-Kansas-Texas (Katy); New York, Chicago & St. Louis (Nickel Plate Road); and Pennsylvania.  Following the Civil War, a growing St. Louis expanded to the point that it boasted the nation’s fourth largest metropolitan region behind only New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago. (American Rails)

This was St. Louis’ second Union Station, the first was quickly outgrown. Additional tracks were added on the west side of the shed within the first decade — to accommodate increased passengers for the 1904 World’s Fair. The train was how people got from city to city at the time.

The beauty of Carl Milles’ work with Union Station in the background
Grand Hall in St. Louis Union Station, 2010

Passenger volume peaked in the 1940s, dropping off steadily after that as improved cars, highways, and air travel shifted how people got from city to city. St. Louis Union Station closed completely in 1978, the vacant station was then used in filming scenes from the post-apocalyptic (1997) film Escape From New York (1981).

The month I began my first semester of college, studying architecture, Union Station reopened as a “festival marketplace.” That was a fancy way of saying a speciality mall without a department store anchor(s). Though the retail mall was only a portion of the space under the massive train shed, that was a big part of the image.  At the time it was hailed as a way to reuse large historic properties.

Union Station had only been reopened for 5 years when I moved here in August 1990. I remember my excitement finally getting to experience what I’d only read about in college. The original retail mix was good — lots of well-known stores. One of my favorites was Kansas City-based Function Junction — I still have a tray purchased there in November 1990.

Also in 1985 a huge mall opened in the main Central Business District — connecting two large department stores. St. Louis Union Station’s retail mall was very different from the large St. Louis Centre mall. Like many other malls across the country, both failed. Prime tenants gave way to tourist t-shirt shops, eventually there were more vacancies than shops.

Vacant retail spaces in the midway, 2011

St. Louis Union Station’s current owners bought the property after the retail mall was on life support, they made the correct decision to pull the plug.  Not sure if the coming aquarium, Ferris wheel, and other attractions will be sustainable — but I appreciate their bold decisions.

In the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll a majority agreed dumping the retail mall was the right decision.

Q: Agree or disagree: St. Louis Union Station should’ve updated the retail mall & food court rather than switch to an aquarium.

  • Strongly agree: 1 [1.75%]
  • Agree: 3 [5.26%]
  • Somewhat agree: 6 [10.53%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 2 [3.51%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 3 [5.26%]
  • Disagree: 15 [26.32%]
  • Strongly disagree: 27 [47.37%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 0 [0%]

I personally look forward to riding the Ferris wheel on a clear day so I can enjoy the views and take hundreds of photos.

— Steve Patterson

 

My Visit To Fields Foods in Downtown West

July 1, 2019 Downtown, Featured, Retail Comments Off on My Visit To Fields Foods in Downtown West

Back in April I visited a new grocery store located in a building I could see from my windows/balcony for over 11 years. Naturally a very convenient grocery store didn’t open until after I moved.

December 2008: the then-CPI building on the left as seen from my balcony

The CPI building at 17th & Washington is now known as The Monogram. It has apartments on the upper floors, and now a Fields Foods on the ground floor.

A new ramp on Washington Ave for ADA accessibility
Good produce selection, right at the entry.
Deli and all the usual items you’ll find at their original location on Lafayette.

I don’t recall now what I bought, but I do remember they hadn’t been open long and they had ApplePay working — very important to me.  Like their original, prices on some things are lower than other stores, while others are higher. When I was car-free I would’ve gladly paid a little more for the convenience.

I suspect many of my old neighbors will continue to shop where they had been if they’re already out in their cars. If you’re used to driving to ALDI or Costco to stock up you’re not going to like shopping here. However, if you’d rather make frequent walking trips then this will be a great addition to the neighborhood.

I wish them well!  Fields Foods’ Downtown West location is at 1706 Washington Ave.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Will You Patronize McKee’s Gas Station or Grocery Store?

April 7, 2019 Featured, North City, Retail Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Will You Patronize McKee’s Gas Station or Grocery Store?
Please vote below

It was three years ago (March 2016) Paul McKee announced plans for a gas station and a grocery store:

At a news conference under a white tent, he announced his latest plans Wednesday afternoon, this time for a grocery store and gas station. The GreenLeaf Market will be located at 1408 N. 13th St., not far from the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge. Right across the street, McKee said, there will be the ZOOM Store — a gas station, store and car wash. (St. Louis Public Radio)

The ZOOM Gas opened last October, though not the cafe & car wash. The GreenLeaf Market opened last Monday, April 1st.

On Saturday the 13th both will hold a grand opening, 10am – 3pm. Both are the subject of today’s poll.

This poll will close at 8pm tonight.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Opinion: Dollar Stores Are A Problem In St. Louis

February 20, 2019 Featured, Retail Comments Off on Opinion: Dollar Stores Are A Problem In St. Louis

In the 70s we didn’t have dollar stores, we had the five and dime.

Long before the days of big-box stores like Walmart and Target, these five-and-dime stores had everything you needed. You could buy clothes, grab some treats, and eat lunch for under $20. These iconic American stores dotted Main Streets across the country before the big guys came around and put them out of business. (MeTV)

In my hometown of Oklahoma City my favorite five & dime was TG&Y (1935-2001), I’d also ride my bike to the larger Woolco“It was a full-line discount department store unlike the five-and-dime Woolworth stores which operated at the time. At its peak, Woolco had hundreds of stores in the US, as well as in Canada and the United Kingdom. “  After closing, the space became a Venture, a retail chain based in the St. Louis suburb of O’Fallon MO.  Of discount department stores I’ve preferred Target for decades.

Walmart, in the early years, brought the discount department store to small towns all over America. Eventually they’d build a larger store in the same town. Main Street businesses began to close. Then Walmart began closing stores, forcing customers to drive a town or two over to shop at an even larger store.

And now Amazon is hurting all brick & mortar retail, right?

Family Dollar on Gravois near Bevo Mill, 2012

Not exactly.

Many investors believe the popular narrative that Amazon is crushing brick-and-mortar retailers. The e-commerce titan certainly humbled plenty of them, but some retailers continue to expand by opening new stores.

The top three dollar-store chains in America, for example, opened more than 1,800 stores last year. Dollar General (NYSE: DG) led the pack, followed by Dollar Tree (NASDAQ: DLTR) and its subsidiary, Family Dollar.

In 2018, Dollar General plans to open 900 new stores. Dollar Tree plans to open 350 more namesake locations and 300 new Family Dollar sites and re-banner 50 Family Dollar locations as Dollar Tree stores. All three chains posted positive comparable-store sales growth in their latest quarters. (Motley Fool/USA Today)

How did we get here? From 2014:

Wal-Mart Stores (WMT, +2.19%) executives could not have been too happy to wake up to the news this morning that dollar store dominator Dollar General (DG, -0.17%) offered $9.7 billion in an all-cash deal to buy out its smaller, struggling rival Family Dollar Stores (FDO, +0.00%), outdoing an earlier, accepted cash-stock offer by Dollar Tree (DLTR, +0.20%).

Dollar General is by all accounts a supremely well run retailer: it has reported 24 straight years of same-store sales growth, all the while managing a massive expansion in recent years that has won it millions of shoppers looking to save money. Moreover, its operating profit margin has also improved in the last five years despite the costs of opening thousands of new stores.

That management prowess could turn Family Dollar into a far more formidable rival than it has been on the watch of CEO Howard Levine, whose father founded the chain in 1959. Family Dollar has expanded quickly but also has run into trouble in the last two years by misreading its customers and ramping up its offering of pricier items such as beauty products. It has since backtracked, ramping up its inexpensive offerings. (Fortune)

However, it was Dollar Tree that prevailed, buying Family Dollar in 2015.

Family Dollar at 6000 Natural Bridge has no paved pedestrian access route from public sidewalk to entrance, even though it would’ve been easily achieved during construction. Click image to see my 2011 post.

From November 2018:

Dollar Tree acquired Family Dollar in 2015, after undergoing a bidding war with Dollar General, its main US rival. Dollar Tree and Dollar General are almost neck-and-neck in terms of store count and annual sales. Both dollar chains have about 14,000 to 15,000 locations. Dollar Tree generated $22 billion in sales in 2017 compared with $23.5 billion at Dollar General. (Business Insider)

First, how many of these stores are in the St. Louis region?  I checked all three within a radius of my zip code just North of downtown, 63106.

  • Family Dollar has 50 stores within 10 miles, still just 50 within 25 miles.
  • Dollar Tree has 18 within 10 miles, a total of 59 stores within 25 miles,
  • Dollar General has 28 within 10 miles, a total of 69 stores within 20 miles (they didn’t have a 25 mile option)

Added up, I’ve got 96 dollar stores within 10 miles. That’s a lot! Food is a big part of their business.

They technically aren’t even grocery businesses, but dollar stores are feeding more people than one of the highest-profile supermarket chains in America.

The finding, in a new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, is a testament to dollar stores’ growing dominance of the American retail landscape.

Grocery sales at the two biggest dollar brands, Dollar Tree and Dollar General, approached $24 billion this year, compared with roughly $15 billion at Whole Foods, according to private market data from the research firm Chain Store Guide.

The ILSR is using the numbers to highlight the threat to independent businesses posed by low-end retail monopolies. (Huffington Post)

Ok, Whole Foods is a niche player in the U.S. grocery segment. Still, what are people eating from dollar stores? Certainly not organic kale. Even ALDI has a nice selection of organic products and lots of fresh produce.

Yesterday I checked out the Groceries, Food & Beverages section of the Family Dollar website.

Give your family delicious, healthy, nutritious meals for less. At Family Dollar our discount food and grocery items include the name-brand products you need to cook great meals at home or enjoy a snack on the go.

At the bottom of the page was the following:

Your local Family Dollar has all the same food and beverages you’ll find at grocery and big-box stores – but here, you can buy them all for less. Our shelves are stocked with delicious ingredients for meals and great snacks from the brands you know and trust. From Hormel, Betty Crocker, and Kellogg’s to Frito-Lay, Wise, and Hunts, you’ll find great discount groceries for everyone in your family. Best of all, we even have frozen and refrigerated foods, like potpies from Banquet, pizza from Red Baron, and fresh milk and eggs.  

Yes, the food items found at dollar stores can be found at grocery stores — but so much at grocery stores can’t be found at dollar stores. The biggest category is fresh produce.

Family Dollar’s food categories, no produce
Dollar Tree’s food. Again, no category for fresh produce
Dollar General’s food. Note it has a fresh food section!
But those fresh food includes lots other than produce

 

Their site does include fresh produce, like bananas. However, only 3 out of 69+ locations within 25 miles have them in stock.

Many are researching the problem of the growth of dollar stores:

This follows two decades in which Walmart’s super-charged growth left small-town retail in shambles. By building massive, oversized supercenters in larger towns, Walmart found it could attract customers from a wide radius. Smaller towns in the vicinity often suffered the brunt of its impact as their Main Street retailers weakened and, in many cases, closed.

Today the dollar chains are capitalizing on these conditions, much like an invasive species advancing on a compromised ecosystem.

Local grocers that survived Walmart are now falling to Dollar General. “This has become the number one challenge of grocery stores,” says David Procter, an expert on community development and director of the Rural Grocery Initiative at Kansas State University. (Institute for Local Self-Reliance)

Much of the above link focuses on predominately-black North Tulsa, here’s another quote:

In late August, just a few days before Labor Day, the City Council finally took up Hall-Harper’s proposed dollar store moratorium. Residents of North Tulsa filled the chambers and one by one spoke in favor of the measure — a show of support that Hall-Harper says made all the difference. The moratorium passed by a 5-to-4 vote. It suspended the permitting of new “small-box discount stores” for a period of six months in Hall-Harper’s district.

Three months later, Hall-Harper proposed a permanent change to the city’s zoning code. She introduced a “dispersal” ordinance that would restrict the development of dollar stores in North Tulsa. Intended to foster “greater diversity in retail options and convenient access to fresh meats, fruits and vegetables,” the measure prohibits a dollar store from opening within one mile of an existing dollar store in a designated “overlay” district. It also prioritizes full-service grocery stores by cutting in half the number of parking spaces they are required to have.

I’d love to see leadership in the St. Louis region to visit North Tulsa and take action here. Limit their numbers, proximity to each other, require sales of fresh produce.

Here are the results of the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: We should be happy dollar stores (Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, etc) are willing to operate in low-income neighborhoods.

  • Strongly agree: 4 [11.11%]
  • Agree: 8 [22.22%]
  • Somewhat agree: 3 [8.33%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 5 [13.89%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 6 [16.67%]
  • Disagree: 5 [13.89%]
  • Strongly disagree: 3 [8.33%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 2 [5.56%]

No, we’re not lucky. These dollar stores are part of the problem, not the solution.

— Steve Patterson

 

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