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New Grocery Store Rumored for Downtown

December 22nd, 2013

A new independent grocer may be coming to downtown in 2014. [PHOTO: benchilada, Flickr]
RocSubway was informed over the weekend by two separate and anonymous sources that a new independent grocer may be coming to downtown Rochester in 2014. Admittedly, this may be unsubstantiated and premature. But these sources have been very reliable in the past. And if true, this would be wildly good news for downtown.

And what the hell, this is a blog, not the Associate Press. I think I have the right to circulate some juicy gossip once in a while…

10 Winthrop Street, Rochester NY.
So here’s what I know. The building at 10 Winthrop Street external link, previously Craig Autometrics (behind The Little Theatre), has been sold. My sources indicate the buyer (or buyers) are city residents who want to open small neighborhood grocery store. Burch Craig, the previous owner, confirmed all but the part about the grocery store. He’s staying tight-lipped, saying only that the new owners will announce their plans in the new year.

10 Winthrop Street, Rochester NY.
The Little Theatre’s cafe is actually within the Winthrop Street building. And perhaps coincidentally, The Little Cafe has booked no bands for next year. This was confirmed by one local band that has regularly played at The Little for years. So then I wondered if The Little might be losing their cafe space. But the cafe manager tells me this isn’t the case.

So we’ll just have to wait and see.

This all comes on the heels of news earlier this month external link that Top’s “Friendly Markets” wants to be the first supermarket downtown.

Downtown may finally get its toilet paper in 2014.
And we all remember the toilet paper guy external link who pleaded with downtown planners for more small retailers/grocers downtown. Well, 2014 may finally be the year downtown gets some toilet paper.

UPDATE: The rumor turned out to be true…
It’s Harts Local Grocers external link coming May 2014.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, December 22nd, 2013 at 10:58 pm and is filed under Rochester News, Urban Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

44 Responses to “New Grocery Store Rumored for Downtown”

  1. Martin Edic says:

    It turns out that the Djangoners have been booked for April at the Cafe so hopefully it is still in business. But I’m thrilled about a store…

  2. Amy says:

    Love the idea of a grocery store there. Don’t love that it could be Tops, though.

  3. LittleFan says:

    The Little Theatre café has booked bands in January and other upcoming months in 2014.

  4. It would not be a Tops at this location. I should have been more clear in the article. The news about Tops was a completely separate story. This would be an independent operation, locally owned.

  5. Your Friendly Neighborhood Mechanic says:

    If this is what happens with our shop, I guess I’ll be happy for the town, but losing one of the premier independent shops (and a job) in Rochester for a store is…it makes me shake my head

  6. Mechanic, the owner of Craig Autometrics is retiring. It doesn’t sound like anyone is forcing them out.

  7. Your Friendly Neighborhood Mechanic says:

    I’m quite aware of what he’s doing. Having worked there, it is my and the other employees opinion that things could have been handled differently. A lot of people in the area (and beyond) are losing a great service.

  8. Sam says:

    It would be tragic for Tops to put a grocery store downtown before Wegmans. For pete’s sake, it’s our home-town brand!

    Wegmans, get off your ass and keep your eyes open. Open an urban concept store here, and take what you learn to expand your brand to other urban centers.

  9. Your Friendly Neighborhood Mechanic says:

    I agree. Something local would b nice, it’d be better if they could make use of the building too. We couldn’t tell from all the survey teams if they were going to knock it down or not

  10. The building is not going to be torn down.

  11. Your Friendly Neighborhood Mechanic says:

    That’s good. Being a part of Hallman Chevrolet (the building, not me) when they were open, it’s good to see history still standing

  12. Susan says:

    Wegmans had severL stores in he city and closed them all over the last many years. They evidently prefer suburban clientele. Wegmans is a good employer but I spend my dollars at Tops because they have kept stores in the city and plan to add more. I believe tops is now owned by a group of their former managers.

  13. Malcolm Kelley says:

    Wegmans sucks, people! Look at the store on East — the terrible parking lot is the least of the countless number of problems. There is no chance that Wegmans could ever design something for the urban landscape. Never. You would have a better shot with a Whole Foods, but that will never happen, either. Perhaps there is space for a second, larger food coop downtown — if only. Beebe Station would be an awesome place to put such a business, although not admittedly “downtown.”

  14. carl says:

    This is awesome news! I wonder though why no one seems to be talking about that grocery store on Marshall street?

  15. Martin Edic says:

    Abundance, the store on Marshall is a natural foods coop, not a grocery store. I make the distinction because their prices are at least 50% higher than most stores for nearly everything they carry, putting them out of reach for the average city consumer. A downtown grocery cannot only serve the more affluent. There is a strong need for food shopping that does not requires two bus connections (like all Wegmans unless you live in the Park/East area) from city neighborhoods.
    I do know that Abundance is looking for a larger and more visible location. Personally I think their prices are crazy when compared to shopping at the Market for organic stuff. But you pay a premium for their ‘health’ food.

  16. carl says:

    Thank you Martin.

  17. Martin Edic says:

    It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. It is extremely difficult to succeed in this town as an independent grocery. The competition is fierce and brutal (I’m not naming names but they don’t fool around if they think you are taking business). I sure hope it happens.

  18. Joe says:

    This is really exciting and I wish I had the money to do this myself become this seems like a primo location. Its convenient to a lot of residential centers downtown. The townhouses around Gibbs are a short walk away, there’s all the people of East Ave and Park ave, and only more people to come once the inner loop gets filled in. The only downside is it’s not really on very visible street.

    I have to agree on Wegman’s, they don’t care about Rochester and I doubt they even care about the area anymore. They are targeting a certain demographic and will abandon their hometown to follow it. Tops will most definitely beat them downtown and its the reason why I shop there and have abandoned Wegman’s.

    If this proves to be true, I’ll shop there. An independent retailer downtown, it’s pretty much what all of us here are looking for.

  19. Martin Edic says:

    I’m not going to participate in Wegmans bashing. This is their largest market. The expanded Perinton store will be their second largest after Pittsford. They cannot sustain their model with small stores. East Ave is their minimum urban store that makes money. They are a business with slim margins vs volume. And we are so used to them that we forget how bad the average grocery in America is. We venerate Whole Foods with a fascist owner and the nickname Whole Paycheck in the markets they serve. The grass is always greener, etc. the fact is that Rochester has not supported a local super market, profitably, in over twenty years. So, idealistically we can bash the big guys but we wouldn’t have what we are used to without them. And, btw, I shop at the Market and Pricerite.

  20. Martin Edic says:

    And Wegmans has over 28,000 employees in our area, second largest employer, and they treat them quite well for a retailer. It’s easy to bash the big guys but not all are Walmarts.

  21. Matthew Denker says:

    The Sagamore people, not too far from here, have been trying hard to get a small grocery in their retail space for a long time. Clearly that hasn’t happened, but I feel like that’s a better location than this. And rather unfortunately, location is almost everything when it comes to a grocery store, especially one you’re trying to get people to without driving.

    I mean, we complain about a lack of grocery stores downtown, but how many of us are shopping at any of the Tops in the city? I mean, the one on upper falls is 2/3rds the distance to the corner of Clinton and Main as the Wegmans on East is to the George Eastman House. That’s tough.

  22. Martin Edic says:

    No grocery can make it in Rochester without a surface parking lot. That’s why this location works and why Midtown is also considered a viable location. Just a reality of that kind of business.
    Tops has new management and is making noise about wanting to be downtown, most likely at Midtown. Personally I’d rather see a Trader Joe’s there. They have a lot of urban locations.

  23. Matthew Denker says:

    I have to disagree. While no grocery might believe they can make it, I contend that they absolutely could. First, the average grocery store in the US serves only about 8,000 people. This is closer to 4,000 households. There are a variety of places in Rochester with that kind of density within a half mile walk shed. Additionally, every one of the tops in or immediately around (Brighton) the city manage to stay in business despite the fact that their parking lots are generally quite empty. It is a very small leap for this parking to be gone completely. If you build said new grocery store with about 1,000 new units at the same time, you are almost guaranteed success. Indeed, I think if the Upper Falls Tops were redeveloped as a dense, mixed use development, almost no parking at all, and certainly no parking dedicated to Tops, could be built. Sorry to be so progressive about it, but the reason this stuff isn’t being tried is because banks and developers don’t believe it, and are certainly not the people who would be served by a parking-less grocery store.

    Remember, building a large, free surface parking lot is a defacto poor tax on the people using the store without a car. 25% of Rochester doesn’t even own a car because they can’t afford it. Why must we continue to transfer what little wealth these people have up to people who can afford to drive to a grocery store?

  24. I think it’s likely the grocery store will not occupy the entire building. Just my hunch.

  25. MAT says:

    Your Friendly Neighborhood Mechanic, I am a loyal Craig Autometrics customer and will sorely miss the classy, professional manner that you all conducted your business with. Are you sending customers to any particular garage or know of any good ones that offer nitrogen fills?

  26. Martin Edic says:

    Regarding the parking lot issue: I think you’re being extremely idealistic, that is to say unrealistic. I don’t own a car and I can tell you that Rochesterians will not walk to a grocery store if they don’t have to. And grocery stores don’t make a profit selling me the two bags I can carry from Pricerite. They make money on carfulls of groceries and preprepared food for take out. I had this discussion with a friend who is very senior at Wegmans and he knows the numbers. Every one of their city stores lost money for years before they closed them, excepting East Ave.
    I hate parking lots and I’m not fond of cars. I take the bus and walk a lot. But I’m a businessperson and running a successful independent grocery is going to require them doing everything they can to optimize for profit including having a lot. We just don’t have the vertical density of a major city.

  27. Matthew Denker says:

    I think there’s a difference between the sea of parking that comes with the current vintage of (Rochester) city grocery store, and the amount that is actually needed, or would be needed if a new store were built as mixed use with housing. The Tops on Upper Falls has somewhere around 150 dedicated parking spaces. I would bet real money that they are not even half full move than half the time. I would also wager that if there were half as much parking and the resulting 5,000+ sqft were redeveloped into 6 stories of apartments (approximately 30 1,000 sqft apts) that the Tops would be doing better, not worse.

    I also think that Wegmans has none of the structure to support the city stores. They had giant parking lots in the city and they weren’t making any money. Clearly that’s not the problem.

    I think that business people in the city. as well as bankers, are in an echo chamber together that parking is a problem (and it’s surely what anyone will tell you is the problem if there’s not a giant and free lot ala walmart) that it stays the problem, no matter. It’s hard to even build evidence on the contrary, but no one is trying. Most of Rochester was torn down for parking, and the stuff to get cars to the parking, and when all and said was done, everyone stopped coming because there was nothing left to drive to but parking lots. How is that working out for us?

  28. Your Friendly Neighborhood Mechanic says:

    @Mat – Most shops in the area offer nitrogen refills, I am pretty sure some of the dealerships do as well, they might do it for free because you already have it in your tires. Don’t quote me on that though, every place is different. Any of the big tire shops in the area should as well.

    As far as shops go, there’s a few in the area, some with varying degrees of the professional look and service you’ve loved at Craig. If you give me an idea of your vehicle, I can give you a better idea where to go.

  29. Martin Edic says:

    Bullshit Matt. Wegmans never had those kind of sq. ft. for parking. I shopped at stores like Driving Park and Mt. Hope. They had a fraction of the parking required and failed in spite of the urban density. Be realistic. There is a huge difference between what you believe as a would-be planner and reality. I love your speculative pieces on infill projects but if I was a developer or a store owner I would be dismissive. It simply does not work. Run the numbers before you draw the pictures. Architects are not geniuses in spite of how they are trained…

  30. Martin Edic says:

    Sorry, a little harsh on that last comment.

  31. Jason Haremza says:

    I believe there’s a reasonable compromise when it comes to parking for urban grocery stores. Rochester does not, and probably never will, have Manhattan or downtown Toronto type density. Urban grocery stores here will have to have some minimal amount of surface parking to serve customers.

    However, truly urban grocery stores will likely make more of their profits on take out and convenience items, not the family filling a minivan with groceries for the week. So the suburban store/parking model (East Ave Wegmans, every Tops in the city so far, Price Rite) is not appropriate for a downtown or close-in location. These stores are fine for what they are and I’m glad they are within the city rather than outside it, but I don’t believe we should be replicating their model, especially downtown or near downtown which is the most walkable area of the entire region.

  32. Jason Haremza says:

    I’m thrilled at the possibility of a grocery store downtown. My only criticism of the Craig Autometric location is the limited street presence. What downtown Rochester desperately needs to make it feel more vibrant is active storefronts along highly visible major streets. Tucking a grocery store on a side street, no matter how great it is functionally for the customers, doesn’t do much to improve the perceived vitality of downtown streets. That’s one of the reasons, I believe, that Abundance has trouble being seen (literally and figuratively) as an option for buying food downtown.

  33. Matthew Denker says:

    @Martin – It’s ok! We get heated sometimes. As a thought exercise, would the downtown Wegmans(es), when they existed, have not failed had their parking lots been larger? If the answer is yes, then it is clear that parking is, and will remain an incredible major factor. If the answer is no, then we need to look somewhere else for why the use of such a store is not meeting the break even point.

    Let’s think about our (Rochester’s) suburbs for a moment. Here’s a map of all of the Targets in the area: http://goo.gl/maps/K8k7b. Just as a spoiler before anyone clicks that, there are 7 of them. And they are arrayed in what can only be described as a nearly perfect bullseye around the city. Marketing genius? Anyway, the greater Rochester metro area (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rochester,_New_York_metropolitan_area) has a population of 1,054,000. That means there is a Target store for every 150,000 residents in the county. Rochester the city has a population of 210,000, but none of these Targets serve it directly. That actually means that there are 7 targets for 800,000, or 1 for every 114,000 residents. By rights, Target should have 2 stores in the city. Now, the question has to be, why not? If the claim is that people in the city could just drive to one of the suburban ones, ok, but why can’t the people in the suburbs drive to one of the suburban ones, exactly? I mean, car ownership in the suburbs is notably higher, and the level of inconvenience to travel a few more miles to Target is minimal.

    Thus it is that we arrive at the crux of the argument. This is a problem of vision, not reality. We say we cannot have nice things in the city because nobody believes we can. And if no one believes, there is no money for it to happen. Target is not gunning for a downtown location. They forced a sea of parking to be built in Washington DC for their store there, and it has remained empty. What I am getting at is that this belief that we need parking at any cost, and as much of it as we can is self-reinforcing. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that we are this way. It is similar to when highways ultimately get torn down, traffic does not flood local streets, but instead just disappears. Most people are unnecessarily driving around. Including to the grocery store to reinforce this cycle of forced consumption enhanced by buying in bulk.

    Anyway, it doesn’t need to e Rochester that succeeds at figuring this out. Some mad-genius/eccentric millionaire in some city will just try it, and well, if it works, they’ll get credit for figuring it out. It could just as easily by Buffalo, or Akron, or Cheyenne. Who knows. The grocery store in downtown Burlington, VT has half as many parking spaces as the Tops on Upper Falls, and it seems to be doing fine. I just don’t think it’s the parking that is the driving difference between the success of these stores.

  34. Martin Edic says:

    Thanks for your patience Matt! One interesting issue for this downtown store is policing the lot because everything around it is paid during the day.
    I worked in Midtown when there was a small Wegmans in there and the only parking was paid- but they had every high-rise connected to their location via the Skyway so there were a lot of office workers feeding into that location. It did well for years.
    Also, regarding the comment about the store not facing a major thoroughfare: It will be on one when the Loop is filled in! That would be a big plus factor for that location as its only a few years away.

  35. Matthew Denker says:

    If I had to do it, I would probably use a system of cameras/software. It’s not hard to check the whole lot and make sure no one has been parked in a given space more than 2 hours or some pre-determined amount of time (and if such a system does not yet exist, I’m on it). That is on the assumption that the lot here would be free and off street. It could just as easily be a pay lot with validation by the store to discourage abuse. This is frequently how it works here in NYC and in other major metro locations.

  36. Jason Haremza says:

    @Martin re: location. Even when the Inner Loop project is complete, this site will face Pitkin Street, as it does now. Pitkin will be a small alley serving the backs of the new development facing East and Union Streets.

  37. Irene says:

    I was walking down Park Ave and Monroe Ave recently and noting that, even though this is one of our densest and most pedestrian heavy neighborhoods, the grocery stores that existed there 20-30 years ago are either gone, or shrunken into convenience stores that sell beverages, snacks, tobacco, and lottery tickets, with maybe a few boxes of soup or Mac & cheese. If Park Ave can’t support a real grocery, what Rochester neighborhood can? Is this a structural change? maybe we all say we want a real grocery, but when push comes to shove what we actually buy locally is beer and jerky. and when we buy real food we demand variety that only a huge store can provide. There must be a market reason all the drugstores, gas stations, and convenience stores sell the same crap.

  38. Martin Edic says:

    Mike, you scooped them by at least two weeks and they have added nothing new. In fact, it does not appear that they talked to the Little who will probably be the most affected area business, given that they lease the lot at night. Pretty lame effort even for the D&C.

  39. JoeV says:

    As a former resident of Rochester, many years ago, I find it sad to read that no supermarket has taken advantage of a downtown location. Fresh Grocer/Shop Rite, located in inner-city Progress Plaza Philadelphia, has a parking lot about the size of the former Bulls Head Plaza in Rochester and does a booming business. Other markets such as WEIS Markets of Sunbury PA and Save A Lot continue to construct stores within inner-city locations. Perhaps contacts with some of these or other establishments serving inner-city areas could be the potential for a downtown Rochester supermarket.

  40. Payton says:

    No toilet paper downtown? What about ABUNDANCE??


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