Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

The Value of Urban Grocery Stores (Dispatch from CNU 20 – Pt. 3)

Dateline: 8:39 am May 14, 2012 Filed under:

A number of grocery store concepts are taking advantage of opportunities in urban infill locations, turning the conventional idea of a full-service grocery store fronted by a sea of parking on its head. At Friday’s CNU 20 session “Designing and Developing Walkable Urban Grocery Stores,” we learned that across the United States, grocery stores, many covering a fairly substantial footprint, are being wedged in to and amongst other uses, adding value to their surrounding community. I’ve been covering urban grocery stores for some time, including this 2011 article in Urban Land, so I was pleased with this in-depth look at grocers at CNU 20.

Despite an urban setting, parking is typically still critical. Sometimes the parking is underground, like at Ralphs in downtown Los Angeles. Sometimes it is at grade but the store is elevated to the second story, and sometimes parking is even on the roof. Rarely is parking less than five spaces per thousand square feet except in very dense urban areas. However, David Taulbee, Architectural Manager of Publix, notes that parking at many of their urban stores is full only at peak times, so that sacred parking ratio of five per thousand is called to question, particularly if the store has other parking options nearby like shared, on-street or bicycle parking.

Uses can mix, but Neal Payton, Principal at Torti Gallas, cautions against a wide range of issues. For one, grocers are very special retailers with unique needs. Not only is sufficient parking important, but so is truck access, with several deliveries each day. As well, each major grocer has its own store layout that affects column spacing. Because column spacing does not always match the spacing of residential space above, creativity is required. In the CityVista project in Washington, DC, for example, this problem is avoided by placing the residential tower above liner retail instead of the ground floor Safeway store.

One key issue addressed is just how many households are required to support a store and within what proximity? David Taulbee was coy about how many households Publix requires to build a new store, but noted that it varied by many factors, including density, access and existing competition.

The bottom line for CNU members is the additional value a full-service grocer can provide an urban neighborhood. John Given, Principal of CIM Group, notes that when Ralphs opened in 2007 as part of a mixed-use project in South Park in downtown Los Angeles, it was nothing short of transformative. He noted there were thousands of new housing units in the area but no reason to walk anywhere. With an urban grocer, there now is.


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  1. […] discusses parking at urban grocery stores: However, David Taulbee, Architectural Manager of Publix, notes that parking at many of their urban […]

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