Interestingly enough, Fort Worth actually had
a downtown grocery. It was called Courthouse Market and was on Belknap where the TCC mess now is. I never went inside. Someone I know who did told me it was pretty nasty. My memory is that there always seemed to be a lot of people who appeared to be homeless hanging around it. I suspect that they made much of their money selling products such as Thunderbird and MD 20/20. Interestingly enough, it closed down just before the residential boom downtown started taking off. Perhaps had it been able to hang on for an extra couple of years, it might have been able to transition its offerings to appeal to a wider base - at least until TCC grabbed the land via eminent domain.
I have been in several urban groceries both in Boston and in New York City. When I lived in Boston there were two I would occasionally shop at. One was a Star Market in the Prudential Center in the Back Bay and the other was an A&P in a run down 1960s urban renewal housing complex rudely thrust into the midst of the South End row houses (and for which blocks of row houses had been demolished). The Star Market was nice. The A&P was not so nice - and it was the very first grocery store I had ever been in where there was an armed police officer standing guard (now a common practice even here). But both were VERY expensive. I was 18 at the time, on my own for the first time and just barely making it. Since I had a part time evening job a couple nights a week in one of the suburbs I did all my grocery shopping at a suburban Stop & Shop where prices were much
lower and selection much
greater and lugged everything back home with me on the subway trains.
The ones in New York City are downright tiny
- the first time I went in one it reminded me of the grocery stores one occasionally still finds in the downtowns of very small towns. They are about the size of the what the larger grocery stores in Fort Worth were in the 1930s. In places like Queens you will find one or two every few blocks apart. To maximize space, the shelves tend to be high and the aisles very narrow - which would make navigating a buggy difficult. But a lot of people do not use buggies as everything they buy has to be carried home. So people tend to make multiple trips per week buying smaller quantities. My impression of New York City grocery prices - unlike pretty much everything else in the city - was they were not too much different than what one would pay at a national chain here such as Kroger or Albertsons. But, obviously, selection is much more limited than what we here in Texas are used to. But this is, in part, made up for by the fact that there are often specialty stores nearby such as greengrocers which sell only produce as well as fish markets, meat markets, ethnic grocers, etc.
The urban groceries in Boston were larger. But they were located in complexes which were built in the 1960s. The one UncaMikey showed in Argentina also appears to be of more recent construction. By contrast, the store buildings in Queens date back to the 1920s and earlier. My guess is that part of the reason Queens does not have larger stores is because of the difficulty of finding in-fill space to build them.
I don't mean to be anybody's dream killer - but I think it would be VERY difficult for an urban grocery store to make it downtown. The margins that grocery stores operate on are very slim - which means that, in order to make it, they have to have a certain amount of volume
. If you are talking about a truly urban grocery where most people walk to the store, there simply are not enough people in downtown Fort Worth alone to support one - even when one ignores the fact that a store that is very centrally located downtown would be a LONG way for people in areas such as Uptown or the T&P lofts or the Firestone to have to lug bags of groceries from a few times per week.
Like I mentioned, in Queens, they exist every few blocks apart. But the density of the area is such that there are a LOT of people who live within easy walking distance of the stores. Not only that, the stores pretty much have a captive market
. Most people there do not have cars so they either have to go to grocery stores within walking distance or use mass transit to shop elsewhere. But lugging groceries home on mass transit is NOT fun - take it from me who has done so. In downtown Fort Worth, there is no such captive market. Most downtown residents do
have cars as it is very difficult to get by without one here. So once the novelty of a downtown store wears off and people begin to tire of the higher prices and more limited selection and the time wasted on more frequent visits to the store, a good number of them are
going to get in their cars and drive to SuperTarget, to Central Market, to Wal-mart, etc. Ultimately, the bulk of the customer base for such a store would be those who use it mostly as a convenience store
- which means that it must have VERY limited selection and VERY high prices. The urban market in downtown Dallas has already had to be bailed out by the Dallas city taxpayers on more than one occasion.
For decades, people in smaller towns have made monthly shopping trips to the closest "big city" in order to escape the high prices and limited selection offered by small town merchants. That is now starting to happen in urban areas as well. In Boston there is a company called Zip Cars ( http://www.zipcar.com/how/
) which, for a $50 annual membership fee, allows urban residents who do not own or have frequent need for a car to rent one by the hour with gas and insurance already included. I understand that they have become extremely popular as a means by which urban residents can make periodic shopping trips to the suburbs in order to escape the limited selection, high prices and delivery fees they traditionally have had to put up with.
I think a Trader Joe's would be a much better fit for the downtown area than a more conventional grocery store. Trader Joe's is unique enough that it will actually attract customers from outlying areas - which would be necessary because I seriously doubt that there are enough people downtown to support one. And that means, of course, that it would need to have some sort of parking lot
- which of course, will make it a bit less "urban." I have actually been in the Austin Whole Foods that Atomic Glee photographed. Unlike the real
urban markets in Boston and New York, the store building includes a parking garage.
Again, don't mean to burst any bubbles. But there are certain economic realities which must be considered before someone makes the significant capital investment that is needed to stock and open a grocery.